Ione remembered the day she discovered what her parents did. Not for a living, but for real. It had been her fourteenth birthday. She woke up in the middle of the night and walked down the stairs, aiming for a glass of juice or milk, when she thought she heard a faint drone. Ione had been tramping down the stairs, so she stopped and listened.
The hum came from the library.
The library was her parents’ realm. It was not that she wasn’t allowed in, it just… wasn’t expected. She simply let them be. Of course, she had been in the library before, and given how much Ione liked reading, it was extraordinary that she hadn’t found any book interesting enough. She had often mused that she could read any book, but the ones in the library were the epitome of boring.
Epitome. Ione had fallen in love with the word the first time she had read it.
But now Ione was before the library door. The sound came from inside. She knocked, but no answer came, so she pushed it ajar. Ione peeked inside but saw no-one. But the dim thrum was a bit louder, so she stepped in.
Ione looked around her, suddenly aware that she felt a bit dizzy. Her stare stopped on a box that lied on the large desk by the window. She walked over and picked up the box with both hands. It was wooden, and to her inexpert eye, it looked ancient. She found it weird that she wasn’t sure she had noticed it before.
Ione lifted the lid.
Inside, lying on a velvet case, she saw one object: a feather. But it wasn’t a bird’s feather: it was gilded, and it was the source of the sound. She picked up the golden feather and wondered why it was quietly humming.
Ione felt another wave of dizziness, stronger this time. She grabbed the chair by the table and closed her eyes, trying to recover.
The door. She had to go to the door.
Ione opened her eyes and walked out of the library and down to the hall. The feather was now almost beating, making her feel as if she held a living heart in her hand. She reached the door and stopped for a second. Why was she here, at the door? What had made her come down here?
The feather was now so loud that she had to wonder, “Where are mum and dad? Surely they can hear it”. But they were nowhere to be seen.
Ione opened the door.
A dozen menhirs had appeared on the front lawn, accompanied by a deep hum. Ione knew what a menhir was, and she knew they usually didn’t move much. She also knew they didn’t tend to shine, but these ones did. And they sang in tune with the feather, she noticed.
Then there was a flash of light coming from the menhirs. Ione raised her arm, but it was too late to avoid being blinded.
As she recovered her sight, she saw shadows moving within the light, coming towards her. There was a large shadow that looked like a two headed monster, hobbling along towards her. She felt panic for a second, but then, as they got closer, she saw the monster coalesce into two female shapes holding a male one. A pale, ill-looking male one.
That was the day Ione discovered that magic existed. She also learned about mortality.
Her mother, carrying her father with the help of the tall, white-haired stranger, stared at her. Ione noticed she gazed at the golden feather. Her mother told her, curtly, to wait in the library. The three of them took the stairs up. The last thing Ione saw was the long white ponytail of the stranger disappearing round the corridor’s corner.
The library felt different. Distressed by the look of her father, it took Ione some time to pinpoint why.
It was the books. Everything was the same, but the books looked and, above all, felt different. And that was strange. How could she sense that?
The door opened, and her mom entered. Ione stepped into her arms, and they embraced. She released tears she didn’t know she was holding.
“Mom, what’s going on? How’s dad? What’s happened to him? And who’s that woman?”
“Ione, we need to talk. There are things you must know.” Ione thought her mother looked extremely calm, all things considered.
Her mother pointed at the feather.
“Why do you have that?”
“Sorry, mom, I didn’t know…”
“Don’t worry. Why?”
“I… This sounds strange, but it was humming. I… felt it?”
“You felt it,” her mother said, nodding. “What else?”
“I got into the library and… it called me?” Ione knew it sounded too fantastic, but her mother just nodded and prodded her on. “And… it led me to the box. And then I felt dizzy, and more humming, only… heavier, so to speak. And I felt I had to go to the door, and then the menhirs appeared and you were there.”
Her mother stared at Ione for a second.
“I don’t really know, Ione. Maybe this is unfortunate, I’m not sure. You’re too young…”
“What for, mom?”
Her mother looked at her. In the eye. She made up her mind.
“All right, then. First the feather. It’s an early warning device. An alarm, if you wish. It’s attuned to the menhirs. The menhirs are a portal: whenever one activates, the feather resonates. But you shouldn’t have noticed. Not yet.
“The woman up there is… well, we call her Ammi. She’s a Healer.”
“A healer?” Ione said. “If dad’s ill, shouldn’t we call a doctor? I don’t like a how a ‘healer’ sounds.”
“Not that kind of healer, Ione. Ammi is good, believe me. She will help.”
“The library, Ione. What do you see?” For a moment, Ione thought her mother was trying to distract her. But she saw the strange look in her mother’s eyes. What was that? Desperation? Or, on the contrary, hope?
“It… it’s like usual,” Ione said. Her mother cocked her head. “Only… the books. They… feel different.” Again that word. Feel. Ione knew it was absurd: how could books feel different? They were only books!
But her mother only nodded.
“Pick one,” she said.
“Which one?” Ione asked.
“Pick one,” her mother repeated.
Ione stared at the books. And sure enough, there it was: the strange feeling, as if something tugged at her. Very lightly, just a nudge, but undoubtedly there. And it pointed her… there.
She picked a maroon tome she had always liked. It was larger than an ordinary paperback, with an ancient-looking binding. Ione opened the book and leafed through it.
Ione felt dizzy again. She barely noticed her mother picking the book and helping her down on a chair.
“Sorry, mom,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I feel fine.” She didn’t want to be a burden, given what had happened to her dad. Whatever it was.
“That’s OK, Ione. It’s perfectly normal. It’s happened to all of us.”
“Us?” Ione asked.
“Us. Look, Ione, pay attention to me. Your dad has been injured, and it’s no ordinary injury.” Ione felt her heart sink. “She was hit with a nasty hex.”
“A hex?” Ione said, confused.
“Ammi up there is a Healing Wizard,” her mother went on, as if Ione hadn’t interrupted her. “We called on her when we were coming back. Your dad and I are Warden Wizards. And that,” and she pointed at the maroon tome, “will be your grimoire from now on.”
Ione could barely see where she was. The fog consumed everything. She sighed inwardly. She knew she should not spend any energy, not even in a simple weather spell, so instead she fell back on her training and concentrated instead.
Ione easily reached the hemitrance state, in which her senses heightened. She remembered how she used to feel dizzy years ago, back when she was a kid and had just discovered the magic realm, and couldn’t fully control her hemitrances. She now could feel her surroundings, even with her eyes closed.
She could also feel that her team mate, Trinh, was also in the same state. They linked their consciences and kept advancing, moving cautiously, watching (but not really with their eyes) every step. They didn’t want to reveal their presence before it was aboslutely necessary.
Ione felt uncomfortable. The Wardens were, so to speak, the first line of defence against the forces of evil. She had laughed the first time she had heard it put like that. She had never laughed again at the phrase after she faced her first demon. Someone could have chosen a better name, but the “forces of evil” did exist, and had a tendency not to rest much, and plot the demise of the world. Or rather, her world.
This force of evil called Sung, in particular, was of interest to Ione. He had been directly responsible of her father’s death, for he had cast the hex that had hit him.
Ione recalled the day her father had died, two years after she had discovered magic. It was her sixteenth birthday, and she had seen her father slowly wither and finally die. Her mother assured her that he had been in no pain, that at least they had managed that. Ione had become proficient enough that she knew it to be true.
From the physical point of view, that is. She had also seen how hollow, how sad her father had become. Previously, he had been full of life. He had been the epitome of happiness, Ione had once said.
She felt rage burn inside her. Trinh felt it and sent calm back. Of course, Ione could really hide nothing to Trinh when they were linked. Ione sent her a curt laughter, a thanks and, even though it was entirely inappropriate during a mission, love. Trinh faked shame back.
Ione smiled. Trinh really was something. Ammi had not been too enthusiatic when her daughter had revealed she wanted to be a Warden and not a Healer, but she had relented. Not that Ammi could have done anything to stop Trinh, in the first place, but the real fact was that her daughter was an excellent fighter, and a crappy doc. Having been paired with Ione had made Ammi happy, and Ione had grown to be fond of the old healer.
Both Ione and Trinh felt it at the same time. The other advance teams were under attack. That meant two things: the first one was that this was a trap, not a surprise attack on Sung.
The second thing fell on them in the form of clawed, winged wraiths a second later.
Through their link, Ione felt the calm emanating from Trinh, as her mate built up her spells in order to defeat her assailant. Trinh fought like a machine: coldly and efficiently.
Ione sidestepped in order to dodge, then screamed and charged at the wraith, shooting hexes at high speed. She saw one hit the wraith. The creature bent in mid-air, becoming a ball as it wailed. Without pause, Ione hexed it again, and this time it imploded.
A horrid howl told Ione that a second wraith was on her, just a moment too late. The creature lunged at her and crushed her against a rock. Ione felt her link to Trinh waver, as the wraith’s claw closed on her throat.
“This… is… the twenty-first century, you monster!” she managed to whisper. White lightning engulfed the creature, who fell, convulsing, to the ground. “Or at least on earth it is,” Ione said, massaging her neck.
“Ione!” Trinh was now close enough for them to see each other. “What kind of electric spell was that?”
“This one,” Ione said, “my taser. Twenty thousand volts will get any wraith. And you waste no thaumic energy.”
“You know, I’m told this job was less fun years ago, when you were not around.”
“Let’s tackle Sung, and we’ll discuss that later.”
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Pick Three Sentences And Write. In last week’s challenge, we were invited to come up with one sentence, no more than fifteen words. For the current challenge, Chuck Wendig told us we had to pick three of those sentences and write about 2000 words using those three sentences.
The git. Last week’s challenge had some 300 answers. The sentences people offered ranged from the simple to the amazing. I made a short list of thirty or so, then further reduced it, then chose three, and in the end changed my mind about one of them.
These are the sentences I used:
A dozen menhirs had appeared on the front lawn, accompanied by a deep hum.
By Dave Wurtsmith.
She picked up the golden feather and wondered why it was quietly humming.
By Mr David R Lewis.
The fog consumed everything.
By Joe Parrish.