On her way home, Drina dreamt.
She dreamt of an old Wizard who died for the sake of being remembered. She dreamt of books of sorcery and spells, of hidden history and poetry and other worlds. She dreamt of a Witch’s lair where some thirty odd people came to be there rather than be Magicians.
She dreamt of Seven shadows circling her feet and two more, already there for as long as she could remember, dancing with the others. Nine in total. Only one was hers.
They told her nothing in this world was actually hers.
She was the world.
Everything else did not concern her. Everything else had been determined the moment their former Master, Ruadh Barnabas the XII, had died. They told her as much.
They told her many things.
“You... you made Dorotea disappear, didn’t you?”
“No. No, that would have been my cousin.”
“What are you? Why?”
“Because they thought she’d betrayed the Alliance.” ... “It was me, Drina, I’m the traitor. She was... she was the barrier.”
“You sent her... to befriend Teodora?”
“Well, yes, the kid has as much talent in her pinkie finger as you do in your entire body. I had to make sure she didn’t catch the eye of anyone else from the Alliance. What better way to hide the gems in the coal, then to play the miner? Neither Laven or the Alliance would receive the treasures I have.”
“Treasures you say. Talent. Magic. Does the fact that I believe in you mean nothing? Am I merely a diamond to you – a rock?”
“Bogdan Kasun. Teodora Lojpur. Sofija Kasun. Leon Bovary. Ermete Rais. Me, and so many others. You listen to us... you, you strengthened us – for what?”
“Did you plan to cause a war? To make the humans cower? To–”
“I wanted to be free.”
“You asked me what I wanted. I’m telling you. I want to be free. Do you know what I am? I’m a shifter, Drina. Do you know what that means?! To be Faceless?! I’m no human or spirit or elf or undead thing – I’m nothing. We’re the race that should exist! Freaks of alchemy! Didn’t you ever wonder why alchemy was a forbidden art?”
“They wanted gold, Drina. They wanted to create something from nothing, but you can’t do that. They wanted to create the perfect race and they tried – oh, how they tried.”
“You know what happened? No? They made the mermaids. They destroyed and they rebuilt, magic at its most forceful, twisted essence.”
“And they made us. I can’t remember what they made us from, but how – I remember how. They cut Drina, every single day. I remember we used to heal fast, however we were before. They’d wait for the wounds to close before they cut us up again. We could heal ourselves by will, but... we had to know... who we are, in order to come back to our previous personalities. What do you think happens... when you forget who you once were Drina?”
“I can change into anyone and anything in the world, but I’ll never be able to be me again. I don’t know my name. I don’t know my parents or family. I don’t even know my own bloody gender!”
“You know the History books, don’t you? Long before the Glein Revolution, magic was banned because of the discovery of an Alchemical lab. We were the discovery, human, we.”
“They wanted to kill us all, us and the mermaids – unnatural, they claimed. Freaks, not of nature, but of science – of Alchemy. The marmaids had been kept in pools and managed to escape into the sewers, then into the see. They were made in an attempt to replicate a lamia, you know? They could take care of themselves mighty well. If you went out to see, particularly the Pacific or Indian Ocean, they’d do you the curtsey of ripping you to shreds like the little piranhas they are. See, they never really got over their hatred for their makers.”
“And the Shifters?”
“We were useful, still are. Good little dogs. I told you we heal fast, that most of us had gone through madness and back a few times already. Whenever someone acts up, they get punished.”
“Laven approached me with a deal. He told me that, if he were to expose the magical world – or rather, the magical side of the world – and in the chaos that would surely ensure. He’d... he promised a safe-heaven. A place where shifters would be able to live, away from the rest of the world – free, if not equal or accepted. Free!”
“I’m not the bad guy, Drina, I want to fix my mistakes.”
“Some things are worse than death, Drina. Living like we do is one of them.”
She started awake when her transport hit a bump in the road, but it’s almost rhythmic rocking lulled her back to sleep in a matter of memories.
Drina ran. The shadows whipped past her, the street lights were distant stars of a cold kind. Her mind was in a flurry, empty except from the adrenaline that washed everything away until the urge to get away was the only thing she knew.
Savamala came into view and blurred passed, her legs beating the old path she always took to the Ghumno. Ghumno – Nikola was there and Isidora and Bogdan and Sofija and Teodora and – no! No, she couldn’t be there! She had to be. Drina didn’t know what she’d do if her Apprentice wasn’t there, safe!
She threw the door open before she even realized she’d arrived.
There was a crowd in the café, making Drina’s already frazzled nerves go haywire. She dove right into the mass of bodies, pushing her way through until she caught a glimpse of a familiar, shoddy coat.
She only realized the inhuman screech had come from her when she barrelled right into her mentor, wrapped her arms around him and held.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Drina, what the–?!”
“Nikola, you idiot! What did you do now?!”
Isidora. Isidora was there too. Drina felt like crying.
Someone else came to shush them. Someone else was talking. Drina’s head was spinning. She couldn’t listen, but as she groped at Nikola and then Isidora, too, when she came into range, the world began to filter in her mind, though she hardly understood it.
“...why? Tell, what do you see now that I’ve pulled the wool from your eyes?! You’re suspicions were confirmed, world, we are not the only intelligent race in the universe – but we are the strongest! Or, we can be – if we get rid of the trash of our society!”
“Hey, Drina, hey – ya’ hear me, kiddo? What’s wrong?”Nikola’s hands were in her hair, tangling and tugging, unpleasant and safe – though his gaze was pointed elsewhere, wavering between his charge and the clear space in front of the crowd. The TV was on. Were they watching a soccer match?
“And here, bold and brass, are the names of my chosen!”
Everything was spinning.
Nikola’s hands were no longer in her hair. Rather, they held her shoulders tightly, guided her through the crowd even as she felt her legs turn to molten led. “Drina, listen to me,” he was saying to her, so fast she barely understood “you and me and Isidora are gonna go out now. Don’t ask questions and don’t worry, we’re safe now. I’ll explain everything on the way.”
“Nikola...” someone’s voice floated by.
“Whatever it is, Bogdan, it’s not the time!” Nikola hollered over his shoulder, still pushing her forward.
“Drina...” Bogdan called again.
Nikola snapped “What?”
“Drina’s name is on the list.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, where she was still just Drina Serdar and not a Witch or a Magician, a child or an adult, a spy or a sister, a mere Human – she wanted to live in her home.
She wanted to see Sibin, before he became someone else.
The lights in the windows were off, Drina noticed as they approached the building. It was strange, coming back to this place. She’d been here a few days ago, sure, right after the scandal at the Olympic Agones Magicae. She’d even butted into Dr Radoman’s tight schedule the day Nikola had, reluctantly, told her of the execution of Ella Ebner a.k.a. Astrid Oliverson.
They went up to the third floor. The door was already open for them. The light in the hall was lit. There were no windows in the hall, so that explained the lack of light Drina had noticed a few minutes ago.
“I’ll go and get Teodora and we’ll meet back here, okay?” Nikola was saying “Stay here, Drina, I mean it.”
“I will.” Drina confirmed, automatically.
Nikola had nodded at her, smiled “I’m proud of you.”
“I’m going with you.” Isodora had butted in then, unmovable.
They whispered something to one another, shared a look that was almost grievous and disappeared into the darkness outside the porch.
Drina wanted to follow, yet they were already gone.
“So, how are you Drina?” Dr Radoman asked her.
She choked on a laugh, finding the situation cruelly ridiculous “Is that really an appropriate question, now of all times?”
“Well,” Sibin shrugged “I am a psychotherapist.”
“You’re pretending to be a psychotherapist,” countered Drina “but your actually just a psycho.”
“You wound me so. But you would have to be extremely naive to trust a psycho with your secrets, no? No one knows what I know. Take your little stolen packet for example.”
Drina frowned “How did you know it was stolen?”
“You told me.” Sibin answered, simply.
“No.” Drina shook her head “No, I didn’t. I would have remembered telling you. Only Vid, who stole it from me, knows that I don’t have it anymore.”
“Quite right, Drina!” Vid’s voice sounded, as if summoned, and its owner stepped out from one of Sibin’s therapy rooms “Long time no see, eh?”
She just stared at him. Her brain, already numb from previous events, couldn’t even comprehend that he was there.
She saw the two of them frowning.
She was frowning too, the clogs in her mind turning almost painfully.
“Laven wouldn’t have known anything about Vid Balsich unless someone told him.” she said, as if she was not at all a part of the world around her “There was an even lesser chance of his team knowing where and when Vid worked. I know because Nikola had to bribe his German friend into going there for his vacation.”
Her frown deepened “In other words, you told Laven where to find his next big asset. The time matches. They’d been bugging Vid for over a month by the time we met and it took me two to convince my parents to go there. The fact that he hasn’t been caught, the fact that he was able to intercept me on the train – right after Dorotea had gone, is you orchestrated it, isn’t it?”
Sibin looked at her as if seeing her for the first time, as if not seeing her at all.
Drina wanted to wake up. She was having weird dreams and despite them being preposterous and surreal, she couldn’t help but be frightened by them.
The three clambered into the car in a flurry. Drina still felt a bit disoriented, like that time the late Ruadh Barnabas had offered to... wait, that had been a deal, too hadn’t?
Her mind whirled, boggled by the possibility, yet unable to fully process it.
“What was that video you were watching?” she found herself asking, dazedly.
“It seems some crazy politician has proclaimed the existence of the supernatural to the world populace. Oh, and he claims he caused a tsunami.”
Drina could have laughed at that, if she’d been in her right mind – but, since she wasn’t, she settled for a dumbfounded “Oh.”
“Oh?” Isidora snorted “The man claimed to know the cause of one of the greatest natural disasters and all you can say is oh?”
Drina didn’t say anything for a while, then she asked “Where are we going?” which made the pair up front worried for an entirely different reason.
“We’re going to Sibin’s place, you know, Doc Radoman’s?” Isidora began “We called in advance. He’s just as worried about the situation as we are. Nikola’s been in contact with some of his informer pals – you know about Xander Mitzotakis, right? Nobody knows what’s going to happen now that the world actually has some proof of the existence of fairytales.”
“Some fairytales.” Nikola butted in carelessly
Drina’s phone chose that moment to ring. She pulled it out of her pocket, checking to see who was calling her.
“My mom’s calling.” She told her fellow passengers “Should I answer?”
Nikola and Isidora looked at each other. Finally, Nikola said “...No.”
Never was the word than defined the world that couldn’t be.
„Are you going to tell her?“
„What, just to ruin a perfectly good fairy-tail? She has something to hold onto, something to believe in – that, in all its cruelty, is the only kindness anyone can afford.“
When Drina awoke, her mind became deaf to the whispers of her dreams. She stretched in her seat and looked out the window. The bus had come to a stop a few seconds ago and she was waiting, rather impatiently, for the rest of the world to pile out.
Looking through the glass though, into the sea of people who came and went, she could just about distinguish the familiar shapes of her heart.
She smiled. Sometimes, she could forget just how good life had treated her – just how much she’d already been given.
She was almost home.