Ella burst into the stables in a little-girl-waddle-run, waving her plastic sword over her head and wearing the rhinestone tiara. “HELLO!” The wooden door swung shut behind her, and the stables darkened once more, only illuminated by the sunlight peeking through the cracks in the old walls.
Sofia looked up at the sound and grinned. “Well, if it isn’t the niña! Hello, Ella.”
“Do your crowns look like this?” Ella asked, pointing up at hers.
“Of course. Though yours has many more jewels than mine,” Sofia laughed. Alexandria scoffed from sitting on top of a cubic pile of hay, digging into her take-out cheeseburger.
“I snatched it, though. Probably still on my ship... wherever the damn thing is.”
“You’re a real pirate?” Ella asked, looking up at her.
“Duh. One of the best,” she said with a mouth full of burger.
“Ignore her, Ella, she’s very full of herself,” Sofia put a hand on the child’s shoulder. “It’s not a very becoming trait.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell y’all!” Ella remembered. “Dylan’s coming with spare pillows soon.”
“Wow, pillows huh? You really are setting us up in a five-star joint,” Sera said from her stable, leaning over the top of the wooden door to look at them and picking at her fries.
“Serafina, be grateful,” Zach scolded with a milkshake in his hand.
“It wasn’t sarcasm! This is so much better than the banished lands you guys threw me into,” she stuck her tongue out at her brother. Zach repeated the action before slipping back into his stable.
Ella giggled, running to Rebecca. “Look at my sword!” she waved the toy over her head excitedly.
The threatening woman slowly turned to face the child, looking down at her with no emotion whatsoever. Then, a small smile tugged at her lips and she plopped a french fry in her mouth.
“That’s a very impressive weapon, child.”
Ella’s eyes brightened. “I use it to fight my brother!”
“A noble cause for a noble warrior,” Rebecca couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice. “Would you like to see my sword?”
“YEAH!” Ella cheered. Rebecca grabbed the hilt of her sword and unsheathed it, holding it out in front of her. The metal glinted in the sunlight seeping in from holes in the ceiling.
“Wow!” Ella breathed. “It’s sharp.”
“Very sharp, so perhaps you shouldn’t get too close to it,” Rebecca laughed, sheathing the weapon. “Maybe you should stick with that sword, it’s your size.”
“YAY!” Ella danced around, swinging her sword before crashing into something. She grunted as her tiara fell off, and she looked up to see what she crashed into.
It was Kyros, staring out the window blankly, leaning against his white cane. Slowly, his gray eyes trailed down to her, but he had no other reaction.
“S-Sorry!” Ella stepped back.
“It’s quite alright,” the man said calmly, eyes going back to the window.
“I like your hat,” Ella pointed at his top hat. “You are a really fancy person, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am, though I don’t remember much,” Kyros answered.
“Why are you all black and white? You look like you’re in an old movie,” Ella commented.
“I’m not quite sure.”
Ella swallowed, feeling a little awkward around the man. “Are you feeling alright, you look sad?”
“I believe I am not capable of feeling an emotion such as sadness,” Kyros finally turned to face her. “But I am feeling a little...off, yes. I understand that I am powerful, but I’m not sure how to do anything, I’m not sure what I’m capable of.”
“We’ll find your memories,” Ella said determinedly. The demon’s lip twitched slightly, and a weird feeling came over Ella. Her hands felt tingly and strange, like when you fall asleep and wake up unable to feel your feet. Something was yelling at her, in the back of her mind, but she wasn’t sure what it was saying. She shrunk away from Kyros slightly, his elegance and poise suddenly becoming a lot more intimidating. Is this what fear felt like? Ella wasn’t used to this feeling, and she didn’t like it all.
“Alright!” Dylan entered the stables and dropped all of the pillows exhaustedly, his words slicing through Ella’s thoughts. “Els, I could have used your help with these!”
“Sorry, bro,” Ella shrugged meekly as the characters moved to grab their pillows.
Dylan began to pace. “Alright, we know we need to find pages, and we have the book of spells,” he motioned to the notebook resting on the window sill. “One of those may be a way to get you guys back to your stories.” Dylan suddenly slowed his pace, as if he switched into slow motion. His head slowly turned to his sister, who tensed under his gaze.
“THIS IS CRAZY!” he suddenly snapped, waving his arms in the air. “T-This magic that these crazy old people believed was actually TRUE?! Ella, there is a talking lizard!”
“I am not a lizard!” Lilith objected from his curled-up spot on the window beside the book, like a small, scaly cat.
“There is royalty, a pirate, and a demon, and they are staying in Granny’s old stables!” Dylan continued. “We can’t possibly hide this from them!”
“We have to try!” Ella urged. “Grandma doesn’t believe in magic, remember?”
“Yet you guys don’t seem to have a problem with it,” Sera snorted, sitting on the window sill with her dragon and crossing her legs, resting her chin on her fist with a confident smirk.
“They’re children, Serafina,” Zach said. “Of course they believe in magic.”
“I’d have to admit, I didn’t think this would be possible,” Dylan rubbed his chin. “But magic or not, they would never let us border people in the stables like some hotel!”
“What does border mean?” Ella asked.
“I’m sure you won’t get caught,” Alex ignored Ella, speaking to her brother. “We’ll just have to be sneaky about it. Besides, you said people don’t come in the stables anymore, anyway.”
“We should try to end this as soon as possible. And the only way we can do that is with this,” Dylan snatched both the spellbook and the Storybook of Princesses from their place on the window beside Lilith and put them on the floor in front of him, sitting cross-legged in the dirt. Ella scampered up beside him and slid on her knees to study the books carefully. “Finding y’all’s memories will definitely be helpful for figuring out what the heck happened here.”
“Shoot, I can tell ya that!” Ella spoke up, raising her hand. “The storybook characters came to life!”
“I’d like to think we were alive before then, kid,” Alexandria crossed her arms, her one good eye staring the child down. Ella shrunk under her gaze.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know that for sure,” Dylan cut in, gnawing at the cap of his pen. “If your only memories are the pages in the book, then you might just be a magical phenomenon and never were an actual being.”
“Big words for a twelve year old,” Lilith the dragon scoffed, dragging a single claw across the wooden window pane, leaving a white scratch mark.
“It could be some sort of alternate dimension deal,” Zach offered, rubbing his chin and ignoring the ill-commenting dragon. “That seems plausible, at least for people like us.”
“Whatever it was, the Author sure knew their magic,” Ella pointed out, flipping through the spellbook. “But why is there a big K here? And here?” she pointed to the giant letter on the front cover, and then the multiple tiny Ks written in blood in the last few pages over the black-ink notes. Dylan leaned over to look at them.
“I’m not sure,” Dylan admitted, tapping his cheekbone with his pen. “It might have something to do with the codes...I forgot to pick up a book on codes at the library, I can try to search online for codes. Do any of you guys know about codes?” he asked, looking up at the characters. All of them shook their heads, following with shrugs or undecipherable sounds that sounded an awful lot like “Idunna.”
Ella noticed that Sera was staring out a window and curiously spoke up. “What are you looking at?” Once the woman realized she was being spoken to, she spun around and casually leaned against the wall.
“It’s obviously something, Sera,” Zach said, wandering over to her and peeking out the window. “It’s that tingly feeling, isn’t it?”
“What feeling?” Sofia asked, moving over to the window as well. “I don’t feel anything?”
“You don’t? That’s weird, I thought it was normal,” Sera commented.
“I feel it as well,” Lilith said. “Ever since we walked to this place.”
“Wait, when did you guys start getting this feeling?” Dylan asked, rising to his feet and closing the spellbook.
“Since we crossed that cute little wooden bridge over that creek,” Zach said, pointing out the window. “The one that separates your grandparent’s house from the stables.”
“I have no idea what that means…” Dylan mumbled as he flipped through the spellbook. “I don’t understand anythin’ in here, and the Storybook would have nothing about it!”
“I would have brought it up earlier if I’d known it wasn’t normal,” Zach apologized.
“Let’s go check it out, then!” Ella jumped to her feet excitedly.
“Check what out?” her brother asked.
“The bridge! Dooooy,” Ella rolled her eyes. “Maybe there is something magic-y there!”
“Magic-y is not a word, Els,” Dylan said, tucking the two books into his backpack and tossing it over his shoulder. “But you are right, perhaps we should check it out.”