Good Reef!

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Chapter 9

Maya and June entered the house and saw Lara kneeling by her child, who was still immersed in a tub of water. June came closer and put a hand on the mother’s shoulder. She seemed to wake as if from some sort of trance and looked up. There was Maya in the doorway, and some old magician appeared behind her as well. Her eyes filled with hopeful pleading.

‘Maya!’ she exclaimed with relief ‘You’re here! Come in, come in. You can make her better, right? I know you can.’

Maya joined June by her side and smiled encouragingly.

‘I’ll do what I can, Lara. You can be sure of that. How long has she been like this?’ she asked taking the girl’s limp hand.

‘She was absolutely fine yesterday,’ replied the woman looking at the child. ‘It’s only this morning that she didn’t want to get up with the rest of us. It was very unlike her, so I kept checking and suddenly she developed a fever and it just got worse and worse.’

Thesius came closer. Normally, when someone looked this sick there was a certain smell in the house; an overwhelming scent of disease. Yet there was none of that here. No vibrations of the air that implied a desperate fight with a foreign element inside the ill person’s body. Everything appeared and felt normal to him. In fact, there was no sign of anything he would usually expect to observe from someone so sick, emanating from the child. To his magical senses she seemed perfectly healthy. She quite obviously was not, but apart from that, there was very strong magic within her. He could almost taste it—extremely powerful magic, still untapped and unrealised. She could be so magnificent.

‘All right,’ Maya said ‘She is hot but she doesn’t appear to be ill. That’s good. Apart from the fact that she’s unconscious of course,’ she added and hesitated for a few moments. ‘I’m going to have to try and contact her. I won’t ask you to leave, but please don’t disturb me in any way, and stay back no matter what happens, all right?’ The women agreed and backed away together, while Thesius simply stood apart from everyone, quietly fascinated by Bee. Maya knelt down by the tub, grabbed the girl’s hands tightly, and concentrated.

There was so much noise she could barely take it. The agony was such, she thought she might faint. It surrounded her from all over and stabbed at her brain like a knife. Maya tried to block it but couldn’t. So she attempted to separate the sounds and was able to distinguish some voices in this terrible cacophony of pain. She heard the worried, scared and pleading thoughts of Lara, hopeful affirmations of June, Thesius’s interested musings on her talents and thoughts about what Bee would be capable of. She heard the girl’s father and brothers. She heard the neighbours and everybody else. Maya started losing control again, so she decided to try and push through whatever this was. It was a bit like squeezing through a crowd, being jostled about and having this constrictive feeling that there just wasn’t enough air. Noise; from all over, singular voices, whispers and screams merging into one. She desperately wanted to leave but knew that Bee was in here somewhere. She couldn’t even try calling to her. How would she hear? And then it felt as if Maya reached something that blocked her path: a solid barrier that wouldn’t let her pass. All the other voices just milled around with no real purpose, apart from two: Bee’s mother’s was calling to her daughter and some other, strange voice with no words was also directing its thoughts straight to the girl. But Bee was certainly not responding and she didn’t appear to be around. She had to be, though. It was her mind after all. Maya suddenly found herself in front of a wall. It was made of coral and shone in all the colours of the rainbow. It stretched out as far as the eye could see and curved a little away from her, as if creating a magnificent, giant dome. She tried pushing at it, but it was as solid as the real thing. The wall was surrounded by constant noise, which kept attacking Maya relentlessly. She reached within her magic and attempted to make a hole in the dome. A small section directly in front of her shook violently but then stood still. She tried again, even stronger this time, and a few fragments of coral fell off. Nothing more. She was getting tired and losing strength.

In the room with the tub, nobody saw any difference in Maya, but the fire under the stove flickered, nearly went out and the stove got suddenly cold. Only Thesius noticed. It was never obvious to people that magic didn’t just come with the snap of a finger. You needed to tap into your surrounding energy for magic and you couldn’t continuously use your own, otherwise you’d kill yourself.

Maya tried again. This time she’d burn a hole right through it. She just knew it. She needed to be careful, though and not destroy whatever was on the other side. Whether this was a barrier built by Bee herself, or a result of her strange illness, the girl had to be reached somehow. Maya concentrated the fresh supply of strong energy and faced the wall. There was an explosion and a hole with a tunnel appeared. She dived into the opening and quickly began a mad dash through the tunnel, with the coral rapidly closing behind her.

Bee jerked in pain and Lara covered her mouth, trying not to cry out. June held her arms and sat her down.

The tunnel was long, narrow and still closing behind her with great speed, so she ran fast and kept running. A light appeared in the distance. It was getting larger by the second, and very soon she ran straight out into… Blumenport. Maya spun around and watched the coral forming behind her and transform, once again, into a perfectly constructed wall, which was now moving away and disappearing from view. It was indeed curved inside. It stretched out and up and created a dome that could cover the entire country. Maybe even the whole world. The witch looked around and saw perfectly recreated houses, the road behind them, the forest and the shore, as it was before, only completely silent and in all the wrong colours. It all appeared a little too textured as well. She went up to Bee’s house and touched the door. It was made of coral. So were the frame and the walls. Everything here was made of coral; tiny, little bits of it. Some of them were so small they were translucent and pretended to be window panes. They were rough to the touch as well, but the illusion worked rather well.

Maya pushed the door open and walked across the room towards the stairs. It was a little distracting that the pleasant sound of feet on wooden floors she’d normally expect to hear was absent in this house. She quickly climbed to the first floor with complete and utter silence ringing in her ears and found Bee asleep in her room. Maya sat by her and the girl stirred, yawned and opened her unseeing eyes.

‘I love sleep,’ she said ‘I never realised that I hadn’t really slept a night in my whole life. Isn’t sleep wonderful?’

‘Sometimes it is,’ agreed Maya. ‘Sometimes it’s full of nightmares though.’

‘I tend to have those during the day…. Are you a dream?’

‘No. I’m real. The village witch, as everybody knows, but pretends otherwise. I’m the only person whose thoughts you could never see, Seer, because I’ve always known you had the gift.’

Bee lifted an eyebrow.

‘That’s no proof. It’s things I already knew or suspected. You are a dream, aren’t you?’

‘No,’ she sighed ‘You’ve been unconscious for a while and I needed to find out what happened to you. Everyone is very worried.’

‘Yes, I know. I can hear them out there, milling around, trying to get in. But it’s so nice and quiet here. I actually slept! Can you believe that?’

‘Bee! What’s wrong with you?’

‘I’m not really sure. I think I may be dying.’

‘Don’t be silly. You’re not sick.’

‘I don’t know... I think I’m going to become somebody else now. Many people at once, even. My old body won’t be able to take it, so I’m growing a new one. A brand new body – isn’t that strange? So did most of the other Seers.’

‘How did the others survive this?’

‘Oh, it’s not hard. It’s quite painful but if you hide, you can sleep through it, like me,’ she added and looked wistfully at her pillow.

‘Can we stop it?’

‘Why would you?’ she asked horrified ‘It’s what I need.’

‘You’re fine with not being you anymore?’

‘I’d die soon anyway. My brain would just drain out of my nose, like all those other Seers.’

‘Well, can we help you in any way?’

‘Don’t prolong the pain. Just let it happen… Can I go back to sleep now?’

Maya sighed. She wouldn’t be able to get much more out of the girl. Bee’s thoughts were scattered and barely holding together. Maybe it was the transformation process. Either she was losing herself, or it had already happened and she was slowly rebuilding. Whatever it was, Maya watched her go back to sleep and left the house. Without a sound, the pretend trees moved slowly in the pretend wind, and the coral sea waves washed ashore with the minuscule coral bits. She looked around, taking it all in one last time and then opened her eyes.

‘You certainly took your time,’ said Thesius, the first one to notice her back. Lara jumped up and June came closer.

‘She wasn’t very cooperative,’ replied Maya.

‘But she’s going to be better now?’ asked Lara.

Maya looked at the desperate woman and got up from the floor, wiping her knees.

‘Bee’s changing, but I don’t think she’s going to die. She wasn’t able to explain it to me properly. All she managed to say was that we need to stop trying to prevent what’s happening. It only makes it last longer. Come on. Help me get her out of this tub.’

The women got Bee dried and onto a sofa. June was unsure about it, because it went against all her knowledge and experience, but within minutes Bee’s temperature began to drop. Not a lot, but enough to support what Maya had said. There was hope.

The healer decided to go back and see to her other patients as there didn’t appear to be anything else she could do here. June put her hand on Lara’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly before leaving the house and sharing the good news with Bee’s father and brothers. The relief outside was palpable.

Inside, Lara sat on the sofa and held her daughter’s hand with Maya close to her. The witch looked up at Thesius, who got the message and, reluctantly, left the house. Maya leaned over and smiled.

‘Lara, you know that Bee has the Sight, right?’

The woman looked around in panic.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Maya ‘Nobody will try to take her away. It doesn’t work like that. They need your permission. And Bee wouldn’t agree either. She’s safe here.’

‘Are you sure?’ the mother whispered. ‘I mean, you managed to hide from the magicians and the Academy when you were a child, but…’

‘My parents would have been proud to have me go to the Academy, but I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t risk them being persuaded, so I lied. Hiding wasn’t the happiest decision to make and look now, my husband only yesterday discovered that I’m a witch. But, unless the child is thirteen or over, it’s the parents’ decision. The Council has absolutely no right to take children away without it. They don’t kidnap children. It’s a myth. You can stop worrying about it.’

Lara looked at her daughter and sighed.

‘I’ve always suspected. But she needed people not to know, I think. I gave her a normal childhood. At least as normal as people like her can have.’

‘She had a lovely childhood, Lara. I can promise you that. But she’s not a child anymore. She didn’t tell me much, but she did say that this,’ she motioned to the unconscious girl ‘apparently happens to all Seers at some point. She’s changing in some way. I’m not sure if she’ll be herself again when she wakes up.’

‘As long as she wakes up,’ replied the woman. ‘I’ve always known that Bealla was special, but of course all mothers say that… I love my sons as much as her, and they’re all just as special to me, but I know that the boys will never leave Blumenport. They will lead simple, and hopefully good, lives. That’s all a mother wants for her children, and I wish I could have that for Bee. But I know she’s meant for greater things… You know, sometimes there are children that you look at and just know they’re going to achieve something, do something big — change the world.’

A group of people ran out of the forest and spread through the village with the news. A Unicorn had been spotted among the trees, so all the traps which could harm it needed to be immediately taken down. There was a sudden rush of worried men and excited children towards the forest, and while the men were frantically trying to remember where they had set their traps and what kinds they were, the children swept out in pure joy of something akin to a treasure hunt. One of those was a nine-year-old girl named Fala. She had long, dark hair arranged neatly into braids, very recently adorned with tiny shells she’d found at the camp, where she was staying with her mother. They’d only arrived two days before, but Fala was already commanding most of the children there. Grown ups smiled and called it ‘bossing around’, but what did they know? She made them split up to cover a larger area. The person who found a Unicorn was to signal with a shout and others would come running. Running towards the shouting was probably the complete opposite to what the Unicorn would be doing, but Fala did consider it, and decided that no Ancient Creature would run away from a child. She continued walking deeper into the forest and soon all sounds of grownups lumbering through the undergrowth in search of their traps disappeared. Some children’s laughter would still reach her, and she shook her head displeased. They weren’t taking this seriously enough. One day, she thought, she would have command over many, many people, who would obey all of her instructions and together they’d achieve more than anyone else. Well, she’d achieve it. They’d just help. No more travelling from town to town, searching for the father who she knew never even existed. Despite what she’d been told, Fala was certain her mother had conceived her without any ‘help’ from a simple, mortal man. The girl was surely the daughter of some Ancient Being, demon, perhaps a god. And one day she’d prove it. Maybe even find him and, with his help (because he’d be so very happy to find out he had a daughter as wonderful as her) she’d rule the world, perhaps even all the worlds (she had a feeling there were more than one). She stopped dead and, for a moment, held her breath. There was a shimmer of golden light coming from between the trees. It was getting closer and Fala concentrated on not losing her calm. Her heart slowed down and her breathing was now sparse and very quiet. There was a Unicorn there, for sure. Would she scare it by making a noise, or would it be even more scared by seeing her before hearing anything? It was still coming her way, and Fala made up her mind and shook her hair, just a little. Two tiny shells in her braids made a hollow sound. Sure enough the light stopped for a second and then, as if considering it, continued in her direction. The trees were dense here and there was not much sunlight anymore, but the girl was not afraid. Their trunks had been darkening in the late afternoon sun, which somehow managed to penetrate this far into the forest, but now they were getting brighter and Fala could see them more clearly. She knew something incredibly important was about to happen. The thought of calling out to her troops never even crossed her mind. This was hers.

A stunning, no glorious, stag emerged from behind the trees. He was much larger than she’d imagined. She heard Unicorns were more or less the size of a horse, but this one’s withers must’ve been at least a foot higher than the biggest horse she’d seen. He was enormous but moved with such grace that if she had been a normal, little girl, she would have wept. She wasn’t, though, so she just stared in awe. He was absolutely magnificent. And he was golden. His coat was so shiny, she was sure in proper sunlight, it would be blinding. His tail and mane were extremely long and thick and shimmered with even the tiniest movement, and the horn on his perfect head was at least three feet long. He towered there in all his beauty and stared down at the little girl in front of him. He hadn’t seen any Yavians in a very long time—centuries, maybe millennia. It seemed fitting that the very first Yavian he saw after all this time should turn out to be her. Because he was not just an ordinary Unicorn and she was not just an ordinary girl. He could tell that right away. He came closer and considered her a moment longer. And there they stood for a while, with the sunlight dimming around them—two powerful beings: one immeasurably old and wise, the other incredibly young, a fowl really and inexperienced, but with what a great wealth of ages within her and power yet to come.

He could kill her. She wouldn’t stand a chance. But her destiny wasn’t set in stone, and she had the power to do something unquestionably… changing.

Simultaneously, as if they’d rehearsed it, they both bowed their heads. The First Unicorn came closer and dropped his head towards the girl. She reached out and touched his neck. It was soft as silk and hard as stone. When he lifted his head again she was left with a long, golden hair hanging over her wrist. She looked at him, and he seemed to nod, as if to say: it’s yours. Fala bowed again and immediately the Unicorn reared, his massive hooves hanging above her head. She didn’t move a muscle and the Unicorn left her there, still bowing, until she was, again, enveloped in the dimming light of dusk. The girl looked around but was positive she wouldn’t see him, and sure enough there was nothing there, not even a sign that he’d been with her just seconds before. Not a twig snapped or a leaf out of place. It was like it never happened. But she had the proof and gripped it tightly in her hand. It was golden, stronger than metal wire and emanated raw power. The forest around her was teeming with supernatural life, but Fala wasn’t afraid. Her path could not be twisted, her eyes could not be lied to, and even before this moment no Ancients would have bothered with her. But now she had additional protection, and walking back to the camp, she tied it around her neck and hid it under her clothes. She would keep it on her person forever and reach for it every time she had doubts about her destiny. Because this was proof that she was made for great things and that her name would be remembered for centuries to come. And it would. Whether it was with praise or with hate would depend solely on her.

The group of people returned to the village with relief and, on the children’s part, disappointment (not even a glimpse of a Unicorn). The men brought some rabbits and boars for dinner and had removed most of the traps for now, at least the ones that could harm a Unicorn. People had suspected it, but now they knew for sure that there were Ancients about in the forest. A few of the men were led into swamps by Ogniki, and two more got a real fright from something (they weren’t sure what it was as they didn’t really hang around for a better look) but nobody was seriously harmed. It seemed that the Ancients couldn’t really be arsed. They had existed in legends for so long, only now to reappear without genuinely trying for a big impression. Maybe they were waiting to see what happened, just like all the people in and around the village. Something was definitely coming. And everyone wanted to know what it was.

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