She was in her room, sitting at her desk with the little book of memories from her time under the curse. Her face was pale and tearstained, and she didn’t look at him when he entered.
“Are you alright, June?” he asked.
She didn’t answer, didn’t even move. He resisted the urge to use his gift. It wouldn’t do any good if he didn’t ask permission first. She was always guarded against vision, even from him.
“June, I want to know what you remember,” he said, sitting down next to her. “You don’t have to tell me, but you shouldn’t have to bear something like this alone. It weighs down your mind, and it’s not good for you.”
“Weighs down my mind?” June said softly. She let out a small, halfhearted laugh. “Well, we certainly wouldn’t want that, would we? I don’t think I could handle it.”
“Will you let me look at you?”
She was silent, and two large tears formed in her eyes. “If I let you,” she whispered, “no one else can find out. It would…” She sighed. “You know what I am to my people. You know better than most.”
“You give everyone hope,” Julian said. “You’ve led us safely through the darkest times. You know you’re a good queen. You’ve heard the songs written in your honor.”
“Answer me honestly, Julian. Would anything ever destroy your faith in me?”
“Nothing you’ve done in the past,” he said. “If you suddenly became someone else entirely, and betrayed us all, then perhaps. But this is about the past only, am I right?”
“Yes,” she said. “I… I know what happened to Claire. I remember. I wish I didn’t, but… Now I’ll never forget.”
Julian was silent, afraid to ask any questions. The best thing to do now was let her speak.
“It was me,” she whispered. Slowly, she lifted her eyes until they met his, and let her guard drop for only a moment as she spoke her next words. “I did it.”
Her emotions hit him hard, as did the weight of her words. He saw the brief, hazy image of June’s memory: Claire, lying dead on the floor with November sitting above her, shaking with the pain of his turning magic. There was no one else present but June. Claire had died at the hands of her own daughter.
June shrank away, her defenses up again. He’d never seen her so scared. Her voice shook as she went on. “She’d gone mad, and was putting our people in danger. All the power she had went to her head, and… people looked to me for an answer. No one saw it happen—no one but November.” She covered her face and collapsed into sobs.
“I’m responsible for his death too! I can’t believe I did that… I wish this was a trick of my mind, but it’s coming back too clear…”
“June, look at me. I trust you. I know you wouldn’t take a life unless you had no other choice.”
“Even the Garden of Evil couldn’t destroy Claire. And I did…”
“Claire’s fate was decided by November, in the end,” Julian reminded her. “If he’d truly thought it was best, he would have healed her.”
“He loved her. Why would he let her die?”
“Because she was no longer herself. She was already gone. November had to choose between his own heart and the lives of the mansion’s people. It wasn’t a matter of ability. He had the magic to save her.”
“I don’t know that he did,” June said.
“He rescued her from the Garden of Evil. Nothing could have been worse than that, June.”
“What if I was?”
“I know that magic. I’ve never been near the Garden, but I have friends in the North who have. Just to look in their eyes for a moment was too much for me. What they showed me was the Garden of Evil as it is today, far smaller and weaker than in the early days. I’ve also seen people lost in the madness of battle. Both are unstoppable forces, but I know the Garden is stronger. If November could heal wounds from the Garden, there was nothing he couldn’t do. He would have saved Claire again if he truly thought it was best.”
“What if I ordered him not to?”
“Do you remember that?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Don’t get too carried away. Even if you had told him not to heal her, do you think he would have listened if he really wanted to keep her alive? It was his choice.”
“And it destroyed him,” June whispered.
“It was still his choice, nonetheless. June…” He took her hand, squeezing it gently. “You only did what you had to. I won’t speak of this without your permission, but understand this changes nothing between us. I’ve researched the story. I’ve read all about Claire’s madness. You said the Garden of Evil didn’t destroy her, but it did destroy her mind. She was already gone, long before she died.”
“I killed my mother, Julian!” she cried. “I speak of the mansion’s family, people believe in it! They trust me! I cannot have them know I once turned against everything I stand for!”
“You still stand for the mansion’s family,” he said. “Family comes in many forms. I may not know all the circumstances, but I trust that you would never turn against your family. It was Claire who lost sight of what you stand for. She was no longer herself.”
June didn’t speak, but her eyes met his, and her defenses went down again, giving him permission to look at her. He couldn’t look long. It was too hard to see such pain, guilt, and confusion, especially in the eyes of the strongest person he’d ever known. But he did pick up on one thought he didn’t expect: gratitude for his understanding, as well as the frustration that if others knew, they would never be able to see the situation the way he did.
“Whatever you need now, let me know,” he said. “If you want to be alone…”
She shook her head. “I’d like you to stay with me. Maybe send for Nikki too…” She sighed. “I only wish I could see my girls.”
“Is there a way to send word to them?”
“No,” she said. “Magic can’t reach them. But it’s alright. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
Michelle's Magic Lesson
“I can do it!” Michelle said. They were in a classroom, and Aaron was teaching her magic. He guided her hand, transferring his power to her. Michelle wanted to attempt more advanced magic. Aaron suggested fire or water, but she was so fascinated by his gift, she wanted to try it. She had a few scrapes and bruises to work with, and had almost harnessed enough of his power to heal one.
They focused together, and the cut began to close. “Hold it,” he said. Michelle's grip on his hand tightened, and the skin closed over the wound until there was no longer a trace of it. Michelle gasped. “You got it!” he said.
“I've never done that before!” Michelle said. “June’s helped me with the basics, but that's it.”
“Self-healing is much harder than fire, water, or healing someone else,” Aaron said. “You're doing great.”
Michelle sighed. “That was with June, though. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do any of this on my own. It’s your magic I’m using, not mine. I don’t have any.”
Aaron shook his head. “I think you’ve got something in you.” He turned to face her, and hesitantly put his hands on her shoulders.
“What, can you—can you see it the way June can?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried before. Can I?”
Michelle was nervous with his hands on her, looking in his eyes, but her curiosity was greater than her fear. If she had magic inside her, she wanted to know. “Yes,” she said.
Aaron closed his eyes, and Michelle felt a strange but wonderful sensation coming over her. She was warm and safe, and a weight she hadn’t known she’d been carrying lifted off of her, leaving her light enough to fly. The sense of security began to fade as she realized how deeply his gift could reach. She was vulnerable under his hands, but it wasn’t unpleasant. His search was cautious. She felt the hesitation in his magic, afraid to reach too far and invade her privacy. He was just as nervous as she was, and explored her carefully. She didn’t want it to end, but very slowly, gently, Aaron released her.
“I can’t see like June can,” he said. “Not yet, anyway. But I know there’s something in you.”
Michelle turned away, hoping he wouldn’t see she was blushing. “I just wish it would show itself,” she said.
“It will someday. The longer you stay here, the easier it’ll be to do magic. We’ve been doing power transfers, and that wouldn’t work if you didn't have any. So maybe your magic is just different. Maybe it’ll take a while for it to emerge. It has to grow and develop, even if you were born here.”
Michelle nodded. “Ellie and Savannah said their powers didn’t emerge until they were nearly fourteen. When does it happen for most people? Some kids here are already discovering their gifts.”
“Most everyone can do general magic from a young age,” Aaron said. “It varies when their gift shows itself. Some people are born with it, like me and Eva. Jordan got his when he was about seven, which is pretty common. It probably took such a long time for Ellie and Savannah because they didn’t grow up here. It might take longer for Gabrielle too.”
“Huh. Hannah says she’s not sure when she discovered her gift. She thinks she was around seven too, but she says it’s foggy. If it were me I’d be waiting every day for it.”
“Most kids are, but Hannah’s scared.”
“You’re not scared?”
“No. I needed my gift. I’m assuming she hasn’t had a lot of need for it?”
“No, we’ve been through some pretty bizarre stuff, but nothing serious.”
“That’s good. I get why she’s afraid. Losing someone we’re trying to save is…” he shook his head. “‘Failing’ doesn’t sum it up.”
“Is it… Is it really awful?” Michelle asked. “I mean, of course it’s awful, but is it as bad as what Hannah’s afraid of? I’m only asking because of her, I don’t even know if you’d know.”
He nodded slowly. “I do. First time it happened I was just a kid. Most of the time I practice at the hospital. My mom works there too. Usually she has me work on minor injuries, nothing life-threatening, unless there’s something serious that needs to be seen to right away, and there’s a shortage of healers. Then I’ve needed to come in, and sometimes I couldn’t do anything for them.”
“Have you ever had your power turn?”
Aaron laughed. “I’m still breathing, aren’t I?”
“So, that’s a no?”
“Right. Power turning isn’t something you can just… come back from. I don’t know if anyone’s survived it. The worst I’ve ever been through…” He shook his head. “You probably don’t want to hear about it.”
“I do if you want to tell me, but you don’t have to.”
“It’s just that I’ve never talked about it before—most people wanted to forget it. I blamed myself, but no one else even thought of me, and I didn’t want to seem, I dunno—selfish, for telling anyone how I felt. It wasn’t about me.”
“You can tell me anything.”
“It still isn’t about just me though. I do trust you, but you’ll have to keep this secret.”
“It’s about Eva too, isn’t it?” The only things he ever wanted to keep secret were about Eva. There was something about her that he wasn’t telling her, but she didn't want to ask what it was. When he was ready, he’d tell her on his own.
Aaron nodded, sitting down at the table. Michelle sat in the chair next to him to listen.
“It was an accident. It was like how she lost control of her power at the dance before Ellie and Savannah left for the center of magic. When we were kids, her power was even harder to control. People knew not to come into Eva’s room without warning, because if they startled her while she was dancing, she might lose control. But she was in my room, and—and we were just playing. I’m older than she is, I was supposed to take care of her, you know? And we were in my room. This old woman came in. She didn’t think Eva would be in there, but she was, and, well you can imagine what happened.” He shook his head, and stared at the floor. Michelle took his hand.
“I tried… I tried to save her. I told Eva to go get help, because I didn’t think I could do it, but I had to try. And I just… I couldn’t help her.”
“Oh, Aaron. How old were you?”
“I was eight.”
“Eight?” That meant Eva had been even younger when she had taken a life. As shocked as she was, Michelle tried to stay focused on Aaron. Whatever Eva had done, he never spoke a word against her, and Michelle decided to follow his example.
“Yeah. I can only imagine how bad it was for Eva, but I never found out. Afterward she went straight to June, and no one stayed with me. My parents were living in the mansion at the time, but they were also acting as Eva’s parents, so they were with Eva and June too. There was a lot of debate about whether or not she should even be allowed to stay.”
Michelle could certainly understand why, but she didn’t say anything. “So—what did you do?”
“Couldn’t do anything. No one asked me anything about it, and I wasn’t about to bring up what it was like for me.”
“What was it like?”
“I… I was alone. I'd never been more alone. My family couldn't be with me and my magic didn't feel right. And I knew it was all my fault.”
“But you know now it wasn't, right? You were a kid. It wasn’t your responsibility.”
“Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but they put the responsibility on me. Once people saw I could fix people up, it was sort of expected that I would. No one blamed me when I couldn’t, they blamed Eva. I didn’t want to bring any attention to me, with all she was going through.”
“But you were just a kid. Someone would have understood, wouldn’t they?”
“I don’t know. But I’m glad you do, now.”
He moved closer to her, and she leaned toward him, trying to calm her racing heart. This was the first time something like this had happened to her, happened to her for real, and she wasn’t about to mess it up. He had trusted her with something he’d kept secret for years.
There were loud footsteps in the hall, and someone pounded on the door, making both of them jump.
“They're back!” Shane yelled. “Everyone get out here! They brought people back with them!”
Aaron and Michelle looked at each other with nervous smiles.
“Well, I um…” Aaron said, “I guess we better go see them.”
Lindsey the Troublemaker
“Calm down, Travis, get in the car. We're going to the hospital.” Mom had said something along those lines. And Dad's answer was ever so strange: “But will they be able to do anything?”
In a world of magic, maybe they didn't have hospitals. Maybe they could just heal away any injury by magic in the moment. But it got even stranger:
“Silly girl, you about scared your father to death!” Mom said. “What on earth were you doing?”
Lindsey gave her response without a thought. “Flying.”
Mom laughed, but Dad yelled at her. “What did you say?”
She shrank back, and didn't answer.
“Oh calm down, Travis, she's learned her lesson.”
Later that night, Lindsey saw him crying. She hid from his sight, and wondered why he was so sad. That quickly put an end to her daredevil days.
She felt guilty for being the troublemaker, but she wasn't the only one who played the part. One year, Andy befriended a pair of adorable twin girls at school. Lindsey enjoyed poking fun at him for his crush. He claimed to only like one of them, but Lindsey knew better.
Mom agreed to let Andy have the girls over for a play date. She had to drag Dad out of the house to meet them, and Lindsey had never seen him be so rude. After a brief word with the twins, he'd shut himself back inside the house. When Lindsey saw his face again, he looked like he'd been crying, but she wasn't sure.
Lindsey also wasn't sure if this was just the way he'd act with any potential girlfriend or boyfriend. He'd never been rude to their friends before. So she devised a plan, and the following week, brought home a boy herself, even though she wasn't particularly interested in having him as a boyfriend. She flirted, she blushed, she laughed a little too loud, trying to make it obvious to her parents that this boy could be hers. Yet Travis was perfectly friendly to him. Was it just because she'd brought home one, and Andy brought two?
Phase two of her experiment called for more extreme measures. She deliberately brought home two boys at once, and somehow, Dad was still friendly. Mom, however, felt the need to have a little chat with her afterward, during which Lindsey finally snapped and told her the truth.
“I just don't understand why he was so mean to Andy's friends. I thought maybe it was because he brought home two.”
Mom laughed. She laughed and laughed, and Lindsey frowned and frowned, because all she wanted was an answer that made sense, and after all the trouble she'd gone to, she deserved it.
“Oh, honey, that is a relief. You're such a good sister. Perhaps Dad's a little more protective of his littlest than someone as old and wise as you.”
Lindsey rolled her eyes.
“But in all seriousness, I don't know why. I tried to talk to him myself about it. He might not remember whatever trouble he has in his past, but even the smallest things can set it off.”
Again with the “trouble in the past” that Travis didn't remember. Ugh.
“Next time let's just have a talk, okay? It's not right to play games with other people's hearts.”
She did feel guilty. One of the boys understood the situation perfectly, but the other did develop a crush on her, and she had led him on. But sometimes she was too frustrated with her father to be reasonable.
“Yeah," Jordan said. "She can talk to shadows too, which is pretty weird. Normal communicators can’t.”
“Have you ever tried?”
“Yeah, it just doesn’t work.” Jordan paused. “Hey, um… Do you…” he hesitated.
“I don’t want to offend you or anything, but—but Lili said the shadows obey the Ambrosi family. So… can you speak to them?”
“Oh. Well I don’t understand their language like Lili, but I guess I can make them listen to me sometimes. When I did that show with them, I guess they sort of knew what I wanted without me really asking them for it.”
Jordan nodded, still looking uncomfortable.
“Hey. Don’t worry about the Ambrosi stuff, okay? You can ask me about it, I don’t mind.”
“Yeah. It’s better than what the other people who know do. They’ll all just ignore it like it’s something horrible. All their unspoken fears just get worse because they’re afraid to talk about it."
And Long After You're Gone
“What is it? Are you alright?”
Susan shook her head. She was pale, and her eyes were red and puffy. The sight of it made his head spin with worry. The secrets he’d kept, the mess he’d made, and being here in this world surrounded by his past… Was it too much for her?
She led him into their room, and sat down on the bed, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. She was shaking. “Talk to me,” Travis said. “Susan, please…”
“I don’t want to hurt you, Travis,” she whispered. She didn’t meet his eyes as she spoke, but kept her gaze fixed on the floor. “I… I can’t…” Tears filled her eyes, and she fought them back, shaking her head, blinking hard.
“Whatever it is, we can get through it,” he said. “I understand if you want to leave me, I know I lied, I know I was awful to you, but things will be different, I promise.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” she said firmly, “And I know you only acted that way because… Because you were grieving.”
Travis nodded. “I was, but that’s no excuse. You don’t want to leave me?”
“I don’t want to, Travis, but… Don’t you see? You were born here, and your life is longer. You must have known that. I only found out today, and… I remember what we went through those first few nights you stayed with me. I can’t put you through it again.”
Travis remembered too, though what he remembered was more of a big black patch covering part of his life. He’d spent every night in tears, and when he did sleep, images of Cassandra and their tiny twin babies haunted his sleep. Gone. Everything gone in a flash. It nearly drove him mad. By day, he would search, leaving early in the morning and returning late at night with nothing, day after day. Susan would often still be awake when he came back, ready to care for what was left of him. He couldn’t articulate why he was a mess, but she’d taken care of him all the same. Slowly, she’d helped to bring him back.
He cupped her face in his hand, turning her gently toward him. “I did know,” he said. “By the time I found out it was already too late, I was already in love with you, and… I wanted to forget about it, most of the time, I don’t want to lose you, I don’t even want to picture what life without you would be like… But when I lost Cassandra, I’d lost everything of her, this world, our daughters… I thought I’d never see them again, and I thought I’d never come back here. Even if in the years we spend together, the healers here don’t find a way to extend your life, even if I do have to lose you at some point, I can’t lose you now out of fear of losing you later. I’ll see you in our children every day. I’ll have the home we made together. I’ll know you’re still with me.”
“Just be patient and the memories will come back.” He spoke the words without a thought. He’d said them over and over in this same room, though when he’d said them to August he’d been wrong. He knew this woman wasn’t under the dreamer’s curse, but it did feel similar. He didn’t know if the memories would return, or rather, if they should.
“You are welcome to stay here as long as you like,” he continued. “But a few of our people are considering traveling to a place called the Southern Palace. The magic there is different. It's calmer, and it might be more comfortable for you.”
Belinda shook her head. “I don’t know…”
“Stay here for now.” Julian took a seat at the desk. The drawer was open a little, and he caught sight of something inside. He pulled it open a little more. There, next to the blue bracelet, was a colorful painting, and on top on it, a folded letter. He sighed, and looked back at Belinda.
“We can talk more about your options later. There's no need to rush anything. For now, you should really get some rest. You’re exhausted.” She was, but she was also too scared to sleep. “It’s alright. You're safe here, and I'll be right next door if you need anything.”
She was still scared. He didn’t know what he could say to her to make the fear go away.
Julian pulled the bracelet, letter and painting out the drawer. He’d keep them in his room for now. “There’s something I have to do,” he said, “Try to get some sleep.”
She nodded, and he left the room.
Next door, he set the painting down on his desk and admired it. It was titled “Hannah’s Summerland,” and it was beautiful work. Colorful trees and flowers surrounded a green field, and beyond that was a sparkling lake. He turned his attention to the letter next, and wondered if he should read it. It was none of his business, but with his gift, that hardly mattered. He was already going to see these words reflected in Hannah’s eyes later. He sat at his desk, and unfolded it.
You may be wondering when I painted this without your knowledge, considering I wanted to spend all my hours with you. I must admit, soon after I escaped the dreamer’s curse, I was afraid to sleep. It was a foolish fear, after all, a single dream wasn’t about to take my mind away again for countless years. Then I thought up this wonderful plan, a way to busy myself while waiting for the fear to leave, and a way to surprise you. So I asked Julian for everything I needed, and set to work. Knowing you, you’re probably a bit concerned about me going through this silly phase, but there’s nothing more to worry about. Thinking of you soon chased away any fear I had, and staying up into the night became something I did because I wanted to, not because I was afraid. So, my angel, not only have you saved me every day while I was under the curse, you gave me hope again once the curse was broken. I heard you talk about wanting to visit Summerland, but until then, this is a little piece of it just for you.
Julian sighed, folding the letter again. When August painted, he’d been dreaming of Hannah the whole time. Being in the mansion with so many young people, crushes and infatuation were quite common, but he rarely saw two people who thought of each other almost constantly. He would give Hannah the letter, to let her read it when she was ready. He wished he could see what to do for her, instead of only seeing the chaos of what she felt.
He left the letter and the painting in his room, and went to find Hannah.
Belinda's Darkest Memory
“I think I might have killed someone. And I think I might have died. Oh, I sound crazy!”
“No,” Ellie said, “it sounds strange, but not crazy. I think the shadow using your body was an Ambrosi warrior.”
“I don't know how to explain, but what matters is it wasn't you.”
“Still, I keep seeing it...”
“What do you see? Maybe I can help you make sense of it.”
“I was in a battle. I wanted to fight, to prove myself. I felt... younger. Stronger. But once the fight began, I was terrified. And... There was this woman, dressed in green. Long blonde hair. I was so scared, and I knew I had to act... Her back was turned, she didn't see me coming, and I... I had a knife. I stabbed her. She fell, and I was so horrified. This man grabbed me and drove his own knife through my chest, and everything went black. Oh, Savannah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you...”
Belinda put her hands on Ellie's trembling shoulders. Ellie struggled to find words. “It wasn't you,” was all she managed to whisper. But she couldn't be around her for another moment. She tried to shake the horrified expression from her face. “I think we should get you back before Julian starts to worry. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Are you, Savannah?”
“Yes,” Ellie tried to sound convincing. This had all started as a fun yet practical prank, and now... The man who killed Cassandra had latched on to Belinda's body, and raised Savannah. It was so wrong, so horribly wrong, and Ellie didn't know what to do with the information. But she knew without a doubt, that under no circumstances could Savannah ever know.
An Angel in the Making, part two
When he saw her, he threw the girl away from him, and she fell to the ground. As she was getting back up, a flash of white light shot from his hand and struck her. She froze in place.
“Just a moment, my girl,” he laughed. “Perhaps you should rest a minute while I deal with this.” He turned to Dece.
Dece pulled out her knife, and ran at him. He flung her aside easily.
“I’ve underestimated you, Dece!” he laughed. “I didn’t think you foolish enough to attack me without magic!”
Anger rose up inside her as she stood. “There is still magic in me!” she said. She reached for it, where it was hidden away deep within her. It felt strange and unfamiliar, but she stood no other chance against him. Just as it was within her reach, someone else ran in between her and Jerome, pushing him away. The girl was about the same age as the other who had been fighting him, with long dark hair. And she had broken the spell on the purple-haired fighter as she ran by.
“Bree, what the—?”
“He killed my parents!” The one named Bree shouted. “You get away from here!” She and Jerome attacked, and she fell back to where the other girl was getting to her feet. Dece ran past them, after him.
Eva and Bree started after him for a moment before Bree got to her feet and they started chasing after him. “You said your parents died in the storm!” Eva shouted.
“Well so did you!” Bree yelled back. “Easier than the truth, isn’t it?”
“I don’t care what you think of me! I’m going to kill him, so stay out of my way!”
Bree didn’t plan to. She wanted to be the one to destroy Jerome. But the battle wasn’t at all what she expected.
Soon, she was separated from the group, caught up fighting Jerome’s people. She swung her blades, striking each one down as if he was Jerome himself. Summer’s Angels soon joined her, standing by her side. She’d thought she’d only feel terror, until she faced Jerome. She’d thought killing him was her only purpose. But here, for the first time, she felt a stronger calling. These men and women by her side were her family, and she didn’t even know their names.
But what do you really want? Jordan had asked.
This, Bree answered him silently. This.