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Nomzamo

“Mother once told me of the great Shaka, uniter of peoples. A great warrior who fought the white-hats for our land. However, Shaka is long dead. Mother is long dead. Those who I’ve held dear are dead.” Nomzamo looked up beyond the canopy of the trees to the evening sun.


“Intulo has tried to tell you this, Nomzamo. Why don’t you listen to Intulo?” Intulo’s tongue stretched out of his mouth not quite reaching his upper cheek.


“What are you doing, Intulo?” Nomzamo chuckled.

 

“I’ve ssseen other lizards lick their eyes, I’d like to think it’s most pleasant, but I haven’t been able to pull it off for thousands of years.”


“Perhaps, you ran too fast Intulo. Not only did it dry out your eyes, your throat muscles contracted so as to keep your tongue entrapped.” Nomzamo looked at the dirt, and hopped off the log she was sitting on.  “Then, maybe Shaka could have been immortal. Gotten rid of the white-hats once and for all.”


Nomzamo walked amongst the trees the beads of her skirt swaying a little as the wind passed. Intulo careened to keep up with her.


“Intulo think you praise this Shaka too much. One immortal man does not change the world in this way. Intulo has seen it. Lunwaba visited a class of men.”


“Where are these men, Intulo? I have seen a white-hat die. For surely it is not them.”


Intulo hiss-laughed at the proposition, “When I say “class of men”, Intulo means something much different than a “race of men”, like those of the white-hat. These men, are in shape only, that is on this world. They come from Endaweni Emnyama, the Land of Shadow.”


“The Land of Shadow? Intulo. I would like to hear what kind of place this is.”


“It is home to a struggle between the forces of Evil, and the forces of the Sky, though it is closer to the Evil and shares many properties.”


“Have you been to this Land, Intulo?”


“Before, yes. Though, I don’t like to admit it.” Intulo’s stomach growled. Intulo caressed his blue scaley stomach, but smiled in a way that made Nomzamo shiver down her spine. “Intulo is hungry. When is dinner?”


“Intulo will have to work for dinner. You do not make it easy on me, making me take care of you like you don’t have powers from the Sky.”


“Intulo told you, temporarily...” Intulo waved his hands in the air stalling for time. “Divorced.”


“I told you, it didn’t sound as consensual as you made it out to be, and then you tackled a bushpig. I was hoping to get you to do it again. Intulo isn’t the only one who gets hungry.”


“But, Intulo is the most important who gets hungry to Intulo.” Intulo pouted his blue lips showing the yellow seam of the interior of his mouth. Nomzamo, pouting a little herself, stopped dead in her tracks and popped Intulo on the nose. Intulo instantly put up his clawed hands in defence. “What was that for?”, came the muffled reply.


“Being selfish Intulo. I can only expect you’ve been sent to be reformed so you can be given back your powers. I’ll be the first to congratulate you in finding the best teacher in all of the Land. Now I suggest you find out from your lizard brethren where we might find a meal. I will ready the spear.”


Intulo’s form began to compress and rearrange itself into the form of an agama. This started in his legs shifting his bipedal form down closer to ground level, followed quickly by the arms. The head and body were affected near instantaneously. By the time he looked like a regular reptile, his coloration and scale density would shift into two or three distinct patterns before settling into his new form. The lizard flicked his tongue out at Nomzamo before scurrying off into the trees.


The call of a whistling duck announced the beginning of Nomzamo’s time alone. The sound of a drum began to echo through the woods. Nomzamo began to flex in time with the beat. Another drum began to accompany the music, and Nomzamo began to step in time with the beats. Before long, the drums were many, and the constant movement from Nomzamo had gotten her blood pumping. Thats when the singing began, Nomzamo was soon dragged this way and that by the music of the Hundred Voices. They sang of the beginning of The Great Hunt, and wished Nomzamo luck on her endeavor. Nomzamo ran up and down logs, gyrated utop rocks, and shook her chest at butterflies. However, as Nomzamo thrust her spear into the air a final time, the music died down, and the Hundred Voices grew quiet. What remained was the constant beat of the drum moving Nomzamo forward as she saw the blue agamas in the distance.


Nomzamo followed a group of between two to three dozen blue-headed, orange-backed, yellow-tailed tree lizards as they scampered through the trees, down and around branches and roots, until they reached the banks of a stream, and their fleetness of foot seemed to abandon them.


Downstream there lay an ostridge on her side in an obviously pained state. The drum beat in the back of Nomzamo’s head leading her to close in on the ostridge. The coarse raspiness of the bird’s breathing couldn’t penetrate into Nomzamo’s mind, and when the time came Nomzamo pulled back her hand. The spear penetrated the side of the feathered body, and at first there was great panicked movement. However, it made it less than a meter away before falling again, this time indefinitely.


Nomzamo retrieved her spear and wiped it off in the grass. Intulo had changed back while Nomzamo was focused on the kill. His lizard followers were waiting curious to their reward. Intulo went to the rear of the hen as Nomzamo retrieved her smaller blade. She made sure that the blood drained properly while trying to ignore the fact that Intulo seemed to be diving into the back side of the hen. Intulo, eventually covered in blood due to the rending from his claws, came up with an egg. He took it to the bated consortium and broke it for them, letting the reptiles lick at, and consume the yolk. Intulo came back to the body licking his claws, as the agama consumed what they wanted and dispersed.


“You could use a more… precise method of extraction, Intulo.” Nomzamo wasn’t exactly sure if she should critique her spiritual companion when he was in his current, gore-covered state.


“You can be as precise as you want.” Intulo looked tired, and a little ashamed when he somewhat asked, “I need you to do the thing for me.”


Nomzamo grimaced, but nodded. She drug the ostridge further from the creek and then began to gather wood. Nomzamo hummed to herself as she did. It wasn’t quite dark yet by the time she’d gotten it lit. She then prepared the ostridge. She stuck her blade in near the keel and cut all the way back multiple times to expose the organs. One by one, Nomzamo extracted the major organs: liver, heart, kidneys, digestive parts. These were all burned individually, with a small saying on the part of Nomzamo, “To Intulo, My most helpful guide.”


Nomzamo knew the offering had worked, because the smoke had no smell, and Intulo visibly puffed up as the offerings were given. By the end, Nomzamo could have sworn that Intulo was an inch taller than he had been before. With Nomzamo’s offerings complete, Intulo pitched in to help cook a meal for his handy companion. Nomzamo honestly wasn’t sure the Intulo actually found the things he contributed to mealtime, but he would disappear for minutes at a time, and then return with vegetables wrapped in strange leaves and bury them close to the fire.


When the meat was done, Intulo dug up the vegetables revealing some tubers and beans, now tender to the touch of Nomzamo’s flame-cleaned blade.  Nomzamo ate all she could, and Intulo went to wrapping up the hen’s meat in the strange leafs he obviously was in no short supply of. There were some things that Nomzamo felt comfortable asking Intulo about, the strange things that the pseudo-deity said or did, but when it came to the things she’d rather not do without, as Intulo seemed the most fickle of his kind that Nomzamo knew about, she refrained.


Nomzamo and Intulo sat for a little while in silence, before she got tired and curled up in the crook of tree roots. Intulo ascended the branches and hung from his orange and blue tail. Nomzamo was almost comfortable when Intulo smacked his lips before speaking, “What do you want to do Nomzamo?”


“Sleep.” Nomzamo replied as she turned her body a little to have the roots around her hug her tailbone.


“Not right now.” Intulo insisted, “Think bigger.”


“I don’t know Intulo. I can’t bring back my family.”


“No,” Intulo sighed, “You can’t.”


“I’d like to find the white-hats who killed them came to justice.”


“Find it?”


“Yes?”


Intulo let his tongue slip out of his mouth and let it dangle before unsuccessfully seeing if it had stretched enough to lick his eye. “What if you could do something about that, bringing them to justice. Would you want to do that?”


“I wouldn’t object to it, but it sounds like a little much Intulo. There are many white-hats, and I don’t have any way to know which ones are which.”


“I’ll help you Nomzamo, but you’ll have to trust me that this is part of the plan.”


“The plan?”


“The Sky has a plan, for everyone, and you’re apart of my redemption. You know that right? I am in your debt.”


“When do I get to collect?” Nomzamo playfully inquired.


“If you do this with me, hopefully, by the end we will both be satisfied.”


“You’re being vague Intulo.”


Intlo laughed, “I know. It’s something that I’m proud of. It takes a lot of work for a spirit like me to disguise his words. Many of us can’t tell lies.”


“That sounds like a great place, no lies, no white-hats. Are there any wars?”


“Only one,” Intulo replied. “And, it’s the longest war that’s ever been waged.” Intulo had a smile cross his blue lips, revealing his yellow gums. “But, I remember it being nice. The war is only some places, and the plane is vast.”


“Can we go there someday? After you’re forgiven?”


“Sure, Nomzamo. If you’re keen, we’ll start tomorrow.”


“Are you telling me we’ve been amongst the trees for two weeks, and we’re just now starting?”


“Only in earnest.” Intulo breathed heavily and scratched himself behind the ear. Nomzamo had almost decided he was going to be quiet, and shut her eyes before he started again, “Can I ask you a person question?”


“Go ahead, Lizard.” Her tone started Intulo who opened his eyes wide.


“How long has it been since your blood day?”


“What does that have to do with anything?” Nomzamo asked rather calmly, if not sleepily.


“It would be too dangerous to start on that kind of day. Human physiological concerns.”


“What’s physiological?”


“It’s a type of magic. Don’t let it bother you, just answer the question.”

“It was before we came into the woods, but we should be fine.”


“I’m sure it will be. Thank you for answering. Lala Kahle, Nomzamo.”


“Lala Kahle, Intulo.” Nomzamo closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.


In her dream, there was a rocky, gray land devoid of life. There didn’t seem to be a sky above, or else it was the blackest night Nomzamo had ever seen. There did seem to be clouds, but it confused Nomzamo how she could see everything so clearly, when it was so dark. From over a hill, Nomzamo heard a snarl. She quickly mounted the hill, and dropped to her belly to see where the noise had come from. She saw an encampment, with wooden stakes as their border the tiny village had two huts. There was a great fire burning in the middle, and near thirty people huddled around, most wielding spears pointing out.


The great beast looked to be almost two meters from paw to shoulder, and nearly four and a quarter meters long. The black furred animal had gashes all over it’s pelt. Some led to still-open wounds, where Nomzamo could see the muscles contracting. The massive thing looked to Nomzamo almost like a jackal. It snarled as it was standing at the small entrance into the tiny village. It’s black lips gave way to pink gums and tusk-like fangs. It’s ears stood up rigid, except that the left one was marred, looking to have the tip bitten off. A scar adorned his left eye, though the ocular orb seemed undamaged. Nomzamo couldn’t see the other side, as her outlook only gave her a bit of the picture.


She felt like she laid there for hours, enthralled by this otherworldly standoff. The fact that people lived in such a place was mysterious to Nomzamo, as they didn’t seem to have any of the same natural life-giving ingredients that kept her alive. Nomzamo observed the rough dry earth, and wondered if there was ever rain here.


Suddenly, one of the men got brave enough to rush the black jackal, though Nomzamo was convinced that if this was a jackal it was the most muscular jackal she’d seen, even when comparing that it’s massive size was obviously in favor of that conclusion. The speed at which the hulk moved was so concerning to Nomzamo that she fell half-way down the hill again, before regaining her composure and getting back to her viewpoint. As she was climbing, she heard the shrill screams of a man. Nomzamo mounted the hill and saw a body being swung left and right in the beast’s mighty jaws. The cries slowly stopped, as the new sound of crunching bone echoed across the arid land. When the last whimper from the man had stopped the black jackal dropped the body. What followed was a cheerful yipping noise, not to be drowned out by a woman in the tiny village that began to moan in anguish. The giant black creature then did, what Nomzamo compared to, a dance. After shuffling his feet left and right, the beast put his front two paws on the highest of the pointed stakes and then let himself urinate at the base of the encampment.





This act was met with groans of the occupants, and then a group of ten men and women who saw this as their opening. The face of joy that Nomzamo witnessed on the black jackal’s face was interrupted when a spear entered his thigh.   Out of the corner of his eye he saw the pack of them, and unflinchingly rolled over snapping the spear off and crushing the thrower in the process. The ooze of the life-fluid onto the beast’s fur churned Nomzamo’s stomach, and she could scarce believe that anything in this land acted predator to such a force.


The fur-covered gargantuan bared his teeth and bull-rushed the center mass of the tiny village’s main contingent, knocking many of them into the main fire, but not without injury of his own. He turned tail, accidentally letting his rear graze the pyre, but was met with the rest of the group that had moved to attack earlier. Two men threw their spears, and then ran behind the barricade while a group of five women bravely sacrificed themselves in a tight formation that got more solid blows into the beast. One of the women had planted her spear perfectly. This suspended the beast over her for a split second, before she was swatted away by his paw. A little more momentum and the shaft snapped.


Nomzamo then noticed a little girl, around seven, dancing around the fire. While the adults screamed, wept, and were torn apart, the girl joyfully skipped and spun around in the wide circle of burning wood. Eventually, there were no adults to speak of left standing, though a few were grievously injured and crying out in pain. Nomzamo got closer to the scene of the gore. One man in particular was yelling in a language Nomzamo didn’t recognize, but both of his legs seemed to be broken, and one of his arm bones protruded from his skin.


The beast went from person to person ripping out the throats of the fallen, and stepped over this man. He lowered his jowls to the man’s face. The beast pressed his teeth against the sides of the man’s neck until the man could no longer bear the combined pains, and passed out. It was after the sickening crunch and gloopy sounds of falling blood, that the valley seemed silent for all but the beast’s breathing, and a low humming from the little girl dancing at the fire. Wondering what sort of girl could be so calm, Nomzamo edged closer.


The beast entered the tiny village, walking raggedly, and bleeding from his many wounds. The girl stopped moving around the fire, but her body was in constant motion, as she approached the beast. She made a ‘coo’ at the black jackal as she reached up to begin to remove spear fragments. After every removal, the little girl gave the wounds a small kiss, and Nomzamo could see previously bleeding wounds immediately staunched. The gargantuan winced when the weapons were removed, and eventually had to lay down for the girl to reach the injuries. Nomzamo was too curious for her own good, and had gotten relatively close at this point.



The black giant sniffed the air, and began to rise, however the little girl put her hand on the black fur, and rose to face Nomzamo. Nomzamo met eyes with the girl, and began to flee back up the hill where she had previously been watching from. As she turned behind to see if the girl had followed, she ran into a small figure, knocking it over, and getting tangled up into it.


She struggled against the figure, as when they were both on the ground they began to grapple. The figure was curiously strong for it’s size, and as Nomzamo lost, she saw the blood-flecked grubby face of a small girl. Her skin was a strange hue that Nomzamo had not seen before, as Nomzamo struggled against the pin the girl examined Nomzamo, and eventually started to lower her head. The girl opened her mouth and drew closer to Nomzamo’s face. The girl’s teeth got visibly closer and closer to Nomzamo’s right eye, and reflexively Nomzamo closed her eyes. She could feel the hot breath of the girl on her eyelid, and felt the girl reposition the pin, freeing up one of her hands. Nomzamo beat at her attacker, but the girl took her fingers and spread Nomzamo’s eyelid opening up Nomzamo’s vision to a descending oval of darkness.

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Eleanor

I like the new house. It’s small and still smells like old people and cookies from the past occupants. These people were tea drinkers. I can tell from the light stains on the carpet that haven’t come out yet and the unused tea bags left in the kitchen drawers. I’m pretty sure they had grandchildren as well. There are fading tire tracks on the bottom of all the walls in the living room left by a boy who must have loved trucks but had no understanding of gravity. The backyard is spacious and has a lone, black tire hanging from the thick branch of a large oak tree. I couldn’t help but jump on the swing as soon as I saw it. I never had a back yard in New York. Surprisingly, the tire held my weight as I rocked back and forth, the wind making a mess of my curly hair.

From the backyard there is a beautiful view of the mountains and trees that seem to enclose this community. Lush and shifting chromatics of green and brown paint the land below the skyline. I can just imagine the sunrises in the morning as the colors peek over the shortest rock formation to hit the lawn and light the sky. My bedroom looks out onto the scenery and first light will illuminate my room, the books I have haphazardly piled and the boxes that aren’t going to be unpacked anytime soon. I haven’t experienced a sunrise yet, but in my minds eye, it is beautiful. The people who used to live here must have enjoyed it greatly. They set up two chairs around a singular table all pointed in the direction of the mountains. Messy white rings from tea condensation cover the table top. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day. However, I would rather my day start by day at ten instead of six.

Despite the added bonus of a tire swing, I can’t decide if I prefer this house to our old apartment. It had the familiar musk of old books from the store downstairs and the promise of stories that withstand the test of time. All of my things had their place and all of the places had things. I could be blindfolded and navigate my way to any room in the layered features of the apartment. My height was etched into my door frame and my magical milestones were etched into the walls of the training room. The kitchen bore the bearings of the last great fight between my parents, a memory I was too young to keep, but the room had not forgotten. That apartment has chronicled the misadventures of my dad and I for as long as I can remember.

I prefer the smell of old books to cookies, but this new place has a history that excites me. A normal family has lived here. They have loved here, grown here, and learned here, all without the comfort of magic. I can’t imagine living such a mundane life, yet the evidence is all around me. 

Dad always tried to make me live as normal life as possible, forbidding the use of magic outside the house. Apparently, it is what my mother would have wanted. I obeyed him for the most part. I’ve loved without magic. I’ve grown without magic. I’ve learned without magic. But, when anything went wrong, I always had magic to lean on. These people didn’t. This house is foreign, but I can have a future here.

The people in the town are nice as well. Before my dad and I were finished unpacking I made a friend. I have to admit that’s a record time even for me. His name is Kyle Doyle. It might just be that he’s uniquely nice, uniquely good looking, and not representative of the rest of the population.

In the middle of unloading all of our boxes, my dad had disappeared into the house, and I had decided to take a break as well. From the front lawn, I was staring out at the mountains. I could feel it all from the grass that engulfed my bare feet. All of nature lived and breathed around me. Even though I miss the old apartment, I’m so glad we moved away from the city. This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve felt like I can be myself. I can feel it all through my entire being, the strong presence of the distant mountains, the bold river that carves a path through the rocks, the trees that stand tall, and the soft grass beneath my skin all connect. There is magic here and I feel more connected to it then ever before. 

I felt the steps of the boy before I noticed him walking down the street in the middle of the road. He walked with his hands in the pockets of his khakis and his shoulders hunched over.  The sleeves of his blue flannel were rolled up to his elbows and his flip flops slapped noisily against the asphalt. He had the face to look like one of those brooding heroes you find in books and movies, but to me he just seemed like a sad- no devastated- young man with no direction in the world except wherever his feet seemed to take him. Nothing else mattered to him except for what was going on in his head at that moment. I silently watched him pass the house until he finally broke out of his heart breaking stupor.

 When he spotted me, he literally stopped in his tracks, doubled back around the truck, and then stuck out his hand to introduce himself. “You’re new! I’m new.” He said with an instant smile that brightened up the dark features of his face. “Well new-ish.” He qualified, as we shook hands, “My name is Kyle Doyle. Do you need help?” He took the liberty of sticking his nose through the back of the van, survey the last half of our unloaded things.

“No thanks,” I say, trying to be polite, but it didn’t seem like he was going anywhere anytime soon. I lifted myself off of the ground, excitedly engaging in conversation, “How are you new-ish?”

“I was born here. Lived here all my life. Well that’s not saying much. Everyone who is born here lives here all their life. The Parkers have been here forever, same with the Farrers, and the Durkins. No one moves away. Not for good at least. But, that’s not what you asked. Back to me.” Kyle rambled slightly, trying to put his thoughts into words. “I moved away a year ago when I was fifteen to go train for gymnastics. Obviously, I’m back now. I count myself as new.”

I question his definition of new. I don’t know how much changes in a small town over the course of a year. I’m guessing not much, but its obvious he’s terrified that nothing will be the same as he remembered. “So I’m guessing you were good at gymnastics.”

“Oh yeah. One of the best for my age, but my family had to move back home for personal reasons.” Kyle’s head jerked to look at the house next door before turning back to me. “Can I invite my friend down from his room to help you move in?” He asked, moving the conversation in the direction of his thoughts.

“Sure,” I shrugged. I didn’t need the help, but the more the merrier. It’s nice knowing that I won’t be completely alone when I walk through the school hallways tomorrow. 

Kyle walked over to the house next door, picking up small rocks from the ground on his way. He situated himself below one of the second story windows and started to throw the rocks upward against the glass, bellowing to the sky, “Oh Romeo. Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, confused at his odd behavior. After no reply, Kyle threw a bigger rock at the window, clearing his throat to shout, “I said! Romeo. Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo?”

The window glided open and the head of Kyle’s friend popped out. He was rubbing his eyes, warding against the brightness of the sun, which his messy hair seemed to reflect. He had a boyish face, acne galore, and a playful glare going on as he stared down at Kyle. “There are so many things wrong with what you just did.” He complained, “Knocking would be much easier and quieter. I could ignore you if you knocked on the door. But here you are quoting Shakespeare in the wrong context and it’s like you’re trying to start a war with me. You know why my name is Jesse, you idiot.”

“Stop being no fun.” Kyle scoffed, “I don’t know if you’ve even gotten out of bed today, but you have a new neighbor. Come on down and introduce yourself. Stop being a weird hermit person.”

Jesse looked at me with his brown eyes, giving me a small wave before he disappeared into his room. Kyle started to walk back over, apparently satisfied with his work. “Is he coming down?” I asked.

“Of course he is. You’re pretty.” Kyle shrugged as if that was a fact of life that didn’t need explaining. “I never got your name by the way.”

“Eleanor. Eleanor Ivison.” I smiled. Jesse exited his front door quicker than expected and sprinted to catch up with Kyle.

Jesse jumped on his friend’s back, sending them both tumbling to the ground. They slide across the grass. Jesse’s shirt hiked up so half of torso was exposed. Kyle made it to his feet first, pushing Jesse down as he got up. Kyle ran up to me like a little puppy, his smile wide. Jesse  picked up himself from the ground and caught up to his friend. He extended one his hand around Kyle, a goofy smile on his dirt streaked face. 

“Eleanor Ivison this is Jesse Hanford, but everyone calls him Jesse. He was new once too.” Kyle introduced us.

When I shook Jesse’s hand the weirdest feeling came over me. With any mage that has even a tablespoon of magic, I can spot them from a mile away. But Jesse took me by surprise. When our palms touched, I felt the magic teeming inside him, thrashing but bound deep within. His eyes stayed locked with mine unknowing, yet years of potential magical energy raged underneath the ignorance. 

Honestly, it could have been all a part of my imagination. I’ve never met a mage who didn’t know that they had magic. Jesse didn’t look special. He had on a wrinkled shirt, slightly worn jeans, and nothing about his goofy smile, which revealed the dimple in his left cheek, particularly struck me as the makings of a cunning or powerful mage. He is just an average teenage boy. Before letting go of my hand, Jesse gave it one last squeeze as if he didn’t want to let go. I wonder if he felt my magic like I felt his.

I’m usually good about asking the right questions to get the answers I’m looking for, but how do you ask someone who might or might not have magic whether they know that they have magic or not. Whether they know about the Great Families, the Great War, and the Great Exodus. How do you sum all of those greats into one tiny question? I don’t know.

I had to ask him something so I asked “You were new, too?” expecting him to explain how he was from Galos, the dimension where all mages originate. I was expecting a long winded answer like Kyle or at least an answer that had a magical explanation. Usually everyone, mage or human, jumps at the opportunity to talk about themselves. Not Jesse.

“Adopted when I was a kid.” He stated simply as if that explained everything. “Why did your family decide to move here? No one decides to move here.” He added with a laugh that light up his face.

“It’s just my dad and I.” I answered automatically. I know my dad and I are a family, but I still felt like I had to correct him. When people say family, they usually think of a mom and dad and probably some siblings thrown in there somewhere, but it’s just my dad and I and that’s all we ever need. “We moved here to get away from the city.” I said, answering his question.

“Well you’re not officially away from the city until we help you finish unpacking.” Kyle interjected, already leaning over to pick up a box. I didn’t need these guys to help me. My dad and I packed all of our things and we could just as easily unpack them. These guys weren’t going away, but I didn’t want them to go away.

With the two boys in tow, I led the way into the house. I briefly contemplated whether I should stop them outside the door and warn my dad about the impossibility that is Jesse. But that would be no fun.

They walked through the door, unabridged and set the boxes along the wall with the others. Kyle immediately turned around to go back to work, but Jesse stayed inside, his feet rooted to the ground. He had one of our older books in his hands. He gently ran one of his fingers down the leather spine, examining the binding deliberately before taking great care as he opened to a random page. He breathed in the smell of the book, his chest rising and falling as his fingers lightly lifted the edge of the parchment, turning the page. He looked at the words with great care and concentration on his face, his fingers hovering over the pages, tracing the letters but never touching them. 

“Can you read that?” I asked, Jesse while sneaking up on him to peek at the page he had turned to.  

He jumped slightly at my words but valiantly tried to keep his composure after that. He’s looking at words that describe the Great War in excruciating detail, but it’s not in English. All of the books we own are written in Varish, the mother tongue of all mages. “Nope.” He answered, “It all looks like doodles to me. Can you read it?”

The correct answer was yes, and if he were a mage he could read it to. But I couldn’t exactly say that now could I? Instead I gave the closest answer I could think of, “It’s my dad’s.”

Jesse instantly set the book down on the top of the pile in the box. I’m sure if I hadn’t told him that he could have stood in that spot for days, examining, but not understanding, that one book. “Sorry.” He said, “I like old books and this is the oldest book I’ve seen. Where did you get it?”

“It’s been in the family for years. Most of these books have. I even have more in my room.” I told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In that moment, my dad sauntered around the corner, the earth shaking beneath his feet, just as Kyle walked in the room, trying to show off with two boxes in his hands. He dropped them immediately at the sight of my dad. He took a step back as if he wanted to disappear into the walls, looking behind me I saw that Jesse had done the same.

“I see you’ve already made friends, Ellie. No surprise there.” My dad said in his cheery voice. I can see how other people may be intimidated by my dad. He’s a large guy. At least twice the size of an average man and completely covered in muscle. He has thick eyebrows that make his face look menacing. People say I inherited his cheekbones but they cast shadows over his already dark skin, making him seem angry to an outsider even if he’s not. Some of my old friends asked me whether he was in the army or the navy. One person even asked if he was a part of Seal Team Six. It’s ridiculous what people think of him. My dad ran a bookstore in the city, and he has run a bookstore all his life. He wouldn’t hurt a fly let alone another human being. 

“That is Kyle and this is Jesse,” I introduced them and my dad set his sights on Jesse, forcing him to creep back out of the woodwork and into the living room.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Ivison,” Jesse said, reaching out his hand. My dad’s hand easily engulfed Jesse’s.

Their hands only touched for a moment before my dad bellowed, “Get out of my house,” making himself sound more menacing than he is in reality.

“Sorry, sir.” Jesse lamented, his voice soft as he started scampering out the door with Kyle in tow. “We’ll leave now.”

I followed them out the door, not sparing a glance back at my dad. “I’ll see you two in school tomorrow, right?” I called out to my two new friends as they walked towards Jesse’s house.

“For sure,” Kyle called back, waving his hand in the air with a smile.

I’ve been thinking about Jesse all afternoon. My dad saw it too. The brief flash of raw power within Jesse. It’s not just my imagination. Jesse has magic and it’s powerful magic, more powerful than anyone I’ve ever met before. The crazy thing is he doesn’t know. I don’t understand how that much power can live within a person without them knowing. I never knew a small town could hold such big secrets, and I didn’t know I was so lucky that he would live next door to me.