Chapter 1 - The rogue child
The deputy head teacher of Minda Yerra tapped his fingers impatiently against his wooden desk, staring out the window. His intense blue eyes took in the brilliant azure sky outside while his dark, slightly unkempt hair swished against his forehead in the breeze that filtered into his office. A tall, athletic man, he commanded an aura of intensity that often intimidated people and kept his students at bay.
Right now he was waiting for the rogue child to appear. Someone had been sent to fetch her. However, judging from the child’s past behaviour, it was likely she would show up on the school perimeter, slipping past security once more and sneaking into the school.
The window of his office overlooked the school grounds; outside, students were lazing about in the sun, playing ball games, chatting happily or doing their homework. Recess. Happy hour for both students and teachers. He itched for a whiskey, recalling the headmistress’s words.
“You need to take care of this, Drummik,” she had said. “It is in the child’s best interests to enrol in this school. Send someone to fetch her.”
How on earth was he supposed to explain this to her parents? The child was happily enrolled in another, much smaller school and — this was the baffling part — far away from their own. But, it was already done. He had contacted the ideal person to collect her. He sensed movement outside his door and a presentiment told him that the child was coming. He swivelled his chair and waited.
His door guard was sidling up and down the corridor, aware of the intruder. With exams looming, students tended to get very creative. Moments later, Master Drummik heard him speaking. His voice was raised but, strangely enough, no other voice could be heard. Suddenly, the guard shouted. There was the sound of feet running, followed by a loud thud as the guard ran into the wall — not on purpose, of course. A child stumbled into the office. The guard howled in frustration as he realised that he could not enter.
Master Drummik sighed and pressed a button under his desk to inform the guard he had everything under control. Then he proceeded to observe the child; she had yet to notice his presence. It was the first time he had seen her up close. She was probably no more than twelve, boasting a thick head of dark, tousled hair that framed her tanned, exotic features. Upswept brown eyes seemed to absorb everything around her. They were complemented by a pert and slightly upturned nose and a narrow yet determined jaw. A black, tear-shaped pearl hung around her neck from a leather thong. Her shoulders were surprisingly broad, her limbs toned. Her skin was smooth and sun kissed — a sign that she lived by the sea. She was, Master Drummik thought, a truly beautiful child.
He watched her walk around his office, first away from him as she peered into his bookshelves, then moving to the fireplace. She also did an extraordinary job of ignoring his screaming guard outside the door.
The crystal globe above the fireplace commanded her attention, fascinating her with the flickering images it contained. It was only when she returned it to the mantelpiece that she first noticed his presence. She stiffened and spun around. A look of complete bafflement washed over her when she did not see anyone else in the room.
A large mirror hung on the wall next to the fireplace. It was a lavish fixture, approximately two metres in length on all sides, with a delicately wrought silver frame featuring ships and cars. It was in this mirror that she had first spotted him sitting at his desk. Master Drummik smiled and wondered whether she’d be able to solve the particular mystery of where his desk was positioned. He had deliberately created an illusory wall in the office to hide his desk from people, and the only clue he offered was the one in the mirror.
She did the obvious thing and tried to put her hand through the mirror, only to feel solid glass. She examined it carefully, looking at both of their reflections before turning around again. She walked up to the illusory wall behind which he was hidden and walked right through it to stand in front of him. Curious eyes stared at him while uncertainty lingered on the rest of her face.
“Hello,” he said, in a friendly manner. “I was expecting you. What is your name?” He did not get up for fear of scaring her away.
“Terrana. How’d you know I’d be here?”
“We have monitors in this school. We know when someone else other than students and staff is here.”
She carefully digested this bit of information. Her long, dark lashes fluttered briefly while she puzzled over something else. Then she looked up at him once more, her wide eyes brimming with curiosity. “Are you a teacher here?”
He smiled, not quite revealing his teeth, but nevertheless it was a glad smile. “Yes.”
She smiled back and he could have sworn that the sun had risen in his heart, so dazzling and warm it was.
“This is a really cool school. I like it here!”
He laughed. That was one problem out of the way.
“Well, if you like it so much, why don’t you become a student here?”
She laughed back. “You’re funny. You know I can’t.”
“Oh? Why is that?” He hid the edge in his voice but this child apparently knew something that he didn’t, and he needed to know what it was exactly.
“Well, first of all, you’re a dream.”
Master Drummik tried not to let his shock or amazement show on his face. “A dream? Are you trying to tell me that you don’t think this school is real? Or that I am real? That you are dreaming about us right now?”
Terrana nodded enthusiastically, oblivious to his bafflement. She pursed her lips in the manner of someone who knew exactly what she was talking about.
“Yeah. You are a dream. Every night when I go to bed, I dream about this place. I see the lake, the students and this school. The dream doesn’t last very long so I’ve never been able to come in until now.”
For once he was glad he was sitting down. This was extraordinary! And very dangerous. The headmistress was right in insisting that this child be brought to the school immediately.
“Terrana,” he said seriously. Her expression changed, sensing the switch in his mood. “What if I wasn’t really a dream and this school wasn’t some figment of your imagination? Would you like to be here? To be among different people and learn new things that no other school can teach?”
“Like create things out of thin air and move things without touching them?” she asked eagerly.
Scepticism quickly crossed her face. She shook her head vigorously. “No. That’s not possible! No one can do that — I really must be dreaming.” She looked around the office.
“Why is it so hot in here?”
“What do you mean?” At a pleasant temperature of nineteen degrees Celsius, the office was quite cool, and a breeze filtered in through the window. However, as he looked closely at Terrana, he noticed beads of sweat on her skin. They had appeared quite suddenly and alarm bells rang in his head.
“I’m really hot!” She wiped the sweat off her neck and forehead. It was clear that she was becoming agitated.
“The air is so hot!” she complained. “It’s getting hard to breathe. Please open your window!”
Master Drummik rose to his feet so suddenly that his chair fell backwards onto the floor. Terrana looked at him in alarm.
“Don’t be scared,” he told her as he walked over. When he reached her, he leaned forwards and took her arm. Her skin was hot and slick with perspiration. A single bead of sweat trickled down the middle of her forehead onto the bridge of her nose. Master Drummik watched as it flickered for the briefest of moments before falling apart.
“Terrana, listen to me closely. You are in great danger and you need to wake up right now! Do you understand me? You need to leave this office, this school, this place, and wake up right now. Go! Leave immediately!”
She tried to shake her arm free but he held on.
“You’re hurting me! Let go!”
“Wake up, Terrana!” He was almost shouting. “Get away from here! Wake up!” This time he squeezed her arm and she grunted in pain. Tears filled her eyes as she stared at him, but there was no anger or fear on her face — just hurt. Master Drummik stared back, ignoring his own feelings of guilt, and squeezed her arm even harder. This time it worked. His fingers passed through nothing, and he watched her slowly fade from sight. She was leaving.
He prayed she would wake up alive.