“We were just talking about Eva,” Hannah said. “The twins want to learn the glow. Was yours always blue and cold, or was it after?”
“It was after. Before it was always yellow or orange.”
Savannah wondered what happened “before” to make Nikki’s glow change.
“People glow different colors?” Ellie said.
“Yes,” Nikki said. “And the magic feels a little different for each person too. Some people, like Eva, can make the glow change colors, and change the attitude of the current, but that takes practice.”
“So,” Ellie said slowly, “How did you, um... Why did yours change?”
Nikki smiled. “Do you really want to hear a long story of the dark days before the storm on your first day back?”
“I do,” Ellie said.
“I just don't want the Senka twins to run from their task before even beginning to develop their magic.”
“I'd never run from a magical world. No matter how dangerous it is.”
“Good. Because these days are as dark as those soon before the storm, if not darker.”
Savannah glanced around the table at all the happy faces. They didn't look like they were living in dark times.
“The mansion is a safe haven,” Nikki said, noticing Savannah's expression. “It's always been that way. But before the storm, I'd left the mansion for a time. I was still in touch with. She foresaw a disaster like the storm, and summoned me back to the mansion to help her prepare.
“I'd been traveling all day, and needed a place to stay for the night. The only place was this broken-down little hotel, in this middle-of-nowhere town just outside the forest. It was the only shelter I could find.
“I was about to go to sleep when I heard shouting coming from the other room. At first I was annoyed. The walls were paper thin, I'd just been able to block out the noise. I got up to yell at my neighbors to quiet down, but when I opened the door I was just as scared as everyone else.”
“What was it?” Ellie asked.
“Dark creatures from who knows where, like something out of the Garden of Evil. Somehow, they’d gotten into the hotel. There was something human-like about them, but they definitely weren’t human. They were dark. Completely dark except for glowing white eyes. June had said evil was growing and she was right. They came in and attacked. As soon as the creatures had one of the boys in a corner, he completely froze. I tried to fight them off using the glow, but they didn’t even notice me at first. That kind of magic had no effect. Another boy grabbed a lamp and hit one of the things on the head. That seemed to knock it out. Then he opened a window to throw the thing outside, but he was totally frozen as soon as he touched it. I tried to wake him up, but when I touched him he was freezing cold, and he didn’t move. We couldn’t do anything for him.
“I just ran. I didn’t know what else to do. Two of the creatures were following me, so I started climbing out the window, but there were more of them outside, so I slammed the window shut. I remember thinking that couldn’t really do much good, but what else was I going to do? The creatures were everywhere, and the only way to fight them was with fire. Some people have the ability to conjure and control fire, but I hadn’t studied that sort of magic back then. I could only control water, and that was no use. But soon I smelled smoke, and figured out pretty quick that the hotel was on fire. Someone must have been careless while trying to fight the creatures off. It was spreading like mad. I climbed out the first window I could find, but the creatures were waiting for me right outside. I couldn’t get away from the fire, and I couldn’t run from them. I couldn’t even move. I tried fighting, and tried to put the fire out, but I couldn’t. The last thing I remember is the creatures closing in on me on one side, and the fire closing in on the other.”
“How did you get away?” Ellie asked.
“I don’t exactly know. June found me later, and brought me back here, but I don’t know how I survived. June said she came as soon as she heard something was wrong, but I don’t know how long it was before she found me. I just remember waking up in a room here to her voice. Then I wanted to find out what happened to the boys at the hotel. We communicate through mirrors here, so I asked her for one.”
“Communicate how?” Ellie asked.
“You’ll find out more later,” Michelle said.
Nikki continued. “June didn’t want to give it to me. She said I looked different. I didn’t realize what had happened at all. I’d been trapped in the fire with those things, and the mix of light and dark is what changed my glow, and changed the way I look. I can show you a picture later of how I used to look.”
“I think we saw a one,” Savannah said. She remembered seeing a picture of a young woman with red hair, and now that she thought about it, her face had the same sharp angles as Nikki’s. “Is there one in the room upstairs that’s covered in pictures?”
Nikki nodded. “Yes. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I first saw myself looking this way. But once I discovered my new power I decided it was worth it. I can walk through fire, and do a different version of the glow Eva uses. I came back renewed.”
“That’s incredible,” Ellie said.
“And now Ellie and Savannah are going to renew the whole world!” Hannah said.
The twins glanced at each other nervously.
"You’ll be fine,” Nikki said. “The mansion’s family lifted me up again after that fall, and it’ll do the same for you.” She stood, shaking their hands again. “Welcome home, girls, and good luck.”
Shane and the Twins
Ellie introduced Savannah to Shane. Just as she had assumed, Savannah acted shy at first, but Shane hardly allowed a single quiet moment to pass. Now that he had the two of them together, he seemed to think he could get all his questions answered.
“Why is it that only you two can reset the balance? I’d have thought for sure June could do it herself.”
“She said it has to be done by twins,” Ellie said.
“It needs a perfect balance,” Savannah said. “But I thought maybe there’re other reasons we don’t know.”
“Yeah, I mean we can’t be the only twins in the world, right?”
“There’s probably another reason,” Shane shrugged. “But it is really rare for anyone to have twins here.”
“We’ll ask June,” Ellie said.
“Maybe she doesn’t know,” Savannah said. “She would have told us if she knew.”
“I don’t know about that, Savannah, but we’ll ask.”
“And tell me when you find out, all right?” Shane said. “I’m tired of wondering about you two.”
A Mystery in the West
“It’s complicated magic. He moved one of his memories into my mind, so I could see it as clearly as he did. The magic used is similar to that of a mirror-journal.”
“Could you give us a vision?”
“Not of what I saw,” she shook her head. “I could show you some other memory of mine later, but what I was shown isn’t something anyone would want to see.
“Jerome’s mother was living in a remote part of the West, staying hidden. She was living with a man, though I don’t know what happened to him. He wasn’t in the house with them. There was also a child, hardly two years old. The mother and child were both dead.”
“My assumption is the father of the child didn’t know the woman was Jerome’s mother. Eventually he found out, and he killed her. As for the child, I don’t know. He had no visible wounds, and nothing to make the man who found him think his father killed him.”
“He could have been killed by magic, right?” Savannah asked.
“Most likely,” June said. “First I guessed his father was a healer, and once he knew what the child would grow up to become, he used his power to end his life painlessly. But I don’t believe that was the case.”
“Why would he kill them?” Savannah asked. “Just because she was Jerome’s mother?”
“Yes. Power runs in families, and if this man believed the legends about the Garden of Evil, he would believe anyone with that kind of power had dark intentions. This woman might have lied to him because she didn’t want him to know who she was, but she couldn’t keep that a secret forever. If he were a healer, he would have felt the power in her blood right away, so I’m assuming he wasn’t. Once he found out the truth he might have felt she betrayed him, and that knowledge along with his fear could have driven him to kill her.”
“What about their son?”
“I don’t know,” June said, “It didn’t seem like his father killed him. My people are searching for this man, but I’m afraid we might not ever know what became of him, and what really happened that day. The explanation that seems most reasonable for what I saw is that the child was killed by turning magic, but I don’t know how that's possible.”
“It means his own magic turned on him, and destroyed him. But that’s an incredibly rare phenomenon. As far as I know, it’s impossible for it to happen to children. So, there's still a mystery left to solve. But at least now we know Jerome is the only one left for us to worry about, and my people are safe.”
“Are you staying now?” Ellie asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t say for sure,” June said. “There’s a great deal to do closer to home as well, but hopefully I won’t have to be as far for as long. You two are still my first priority.”
An Angel in the Making
In the mansion, I danced upon the stage of the Child’s World, waiting, waiting, waiting…
At last, there they were. I saw Aaron’s face light up with happiness as he toddled over to his parents, and his mother lifted him into her arms. I waited. My parents had to be just behind his...
Amber walked toward me, and I knew there was something wrong. She looked sad. I waited some more, but she didn’t say a word. I couldn’t take the silence.
“When’s mommy coming home?”
Amber took a deep breath, and sighed. “I’m sorry, Bree…”
I don’t remember what she said, I just knew that she was trying to tell me they wouldn’t be coming back. I don’t remember where I was, just that I was crying, that she was holding me, that I screamed for my parents over and over until Amber was crying too.
“It’s not fair!”
Those words, over and over… That was all I could think of when I thought about them. They’d been gone, kidnapped by Jerome… They escaped, they came home, and I was so happy… And far too soon, they were stolen from me again. I knew it was because of Jerome, and I hated him for it. I even hated my parents for leaving me, for walking out the door again when they had just returned. But I hated Jerome more, and that was a hate I couldn’t let go of.
That was my first encounter with the Ambrosi family. I didn’t know why my parents had been pulled into such horrors, and all I knew was the unfairness of it. I learned the rest of the story later on.
Eventually I realized I was a burden of those who cared for me. I wasn’t the only child without a family. My best friend was so independent, and her parents were dead too. They’d died in the storm. I believed that.
We danced like that was all there was in the world. She was so proud of me when I got my gift, even though she was so much better than me. We spent late nights in the club together, flirting with the boys, laughing like nothing mattered…
Eva was incredible. In my eyes, her light was the brightest in the whole mansion—even more so than June. I remember how much I regretted that thought when I found out the truth about her.
“I’m too tired to dance anymore,” I sighed, collapsing on my bed. Eva and I were twelve years old, and we’d been practicing our routines, trying to fill a mirror-journal.
“I’m not tired!” Eva said.
“You’re never tired!” Bree exclaimed. “I don’t get it Eva, we’ve got the same gift but you’re never tired! It’s not fair.”
“You’ll be able to do it too someday,” Eva said. “I can help you.”
“I just don’t get why you’re so much stronger.”
Then she got quiet. Weirdly quiet. When she finally spoke again, it was to ask a question that changed everything.
“Bree… Can you keep a secret?”
There was nothing, I thought, that our friendship couldn’t handle. We’d choreographed our own routines, put on shows together, and cried together for our parents—now I know her tears were only for her mother, but I never suspected anything back then. I trusted her.
Before she spoke, Eva actually set up magical guards against both types of vision. I was nervous and excited for what she was about to tell me. She trusted me, and I felt so important.
“You have to promise not to tell anyone, okay? Aaron and his parents know, and June knows, but you can’t tell anyone else. Promise?”
“I promise,” I said.
“You trust me, right? Nothing’s going to change our friendship, right?”
“I don’t know what could. Just tell me, Eva.”
“Okay,” she sighed. “My parents didn’t really die in the storm. My father… My father killed my mother and kidnapped me. Jenny, Rob, and June rescued me.”
Some part of me knew that Jenny, Rob, and June were out in the forest at the same time my parents were, but I didn’t piece it together at that moment. I thought her lie would be as small as mine. I’d only told her my parents died in the storm because so many others were in the same position. I didn’t want to explain they’d been murdered by Jerome, because I didn’t understand why. Hearing that Eva’s father killed her mother seemed similar to my situation at first. “He killed your mother? Who would do something like that?”
I didn’t think anything could change my opinion of Eva. The only time I ever came close to hating her was when I was jealous. But her next words changed everything.
“An Ambrosi,” she whispered.
She lifted her hand, and ignited a red glow. I shrieked, and clamped my hand over my mouth quickly.
Eva started talking so fast I could barely understand her, and nothing she said really mattered. “I hate him! He’s not my father, okay? He killed my mother and I hate him!”
“You’re an Ambrosi?”
“No! I’m not!”
“Yes you are! You just did a red glow! That’s why you’re better—that’s why you have more power than me!” I got up and ran out of her room.
I ignored her. The full meaning of her words slowly set in. My parents had gone out because of Eva. They had died while searching for her. I’d heard that he had a daughter. I’d always assumed she’d died. But it was Eva. She was the reason my parents were dead. And she hadn’t suffered the same loss I had. Her father was still alive. She’s lied to me. She’d lied like an Ambrosi, and maybe she’d never cared about me at all.
I avoided her after that, and soon grew to hate her. After she told me what she was, I could only see Jerome when I looked at her. I’ve never hated anyone more than Jerome, but I could do nothing about my hatred for him. He was far out of my reach. But Eva was right there in front of me, and I could hate her.
I still spent my nights in the dance club, bouncing from guy to guy, finding joy in the thoughtlessness. I was never in love with any of them, not even Jordan. But he was one of the kindest, and I didn’t want to lose him. Especially to her.
I knew I was too jealous. I didn’t want him to even look her way. I told myself I was protecting him. She was an Ambrosi, and he’d only get hurt. Jerome had killed Angelica. How did I know Eva wouldn’t grow up to do the same?
Yes, I was a bit crazy. But when Jordan actually broke up with me, it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. I was used to being alone. The “break up” with Eva was worse. I hated myself for missing her. Knowing he was with her was worse than knowing he was no longer with me.
I couldn’t rejoice in the return of the Senka twins with the rest of the world. It seems everyone but me has found their home and family in the mansion. The resetting did bring joy, but I’m not satisfied knowing Jerome is just trapped in the forest. I want him dead. Of course that's what I want. Jordan once asked me what I really want, as though there's some deeper answer. I know it won't bring back my parents. But it has to make things better once their avenged. It has to.