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The building was broken down and old, only a few rooms still stood. In many places, old bricks and stones had tumbled all the way down the rocky mountainside into the thrashing waves below.
Even the strongest room was falling apart. In that room was the last hope for Ganea. She was filthy, starving, and utterly depressed. She had lost hope, and knew there was nothing but death in front of her.
She heard a low rumbling, but cared not of it. Nothing mattered anymore.
The rumbling grew louder and stronger, shaking the entire prison to its core. She looked up sullenly, her matted hair shaking slightly. The whole place was trembling violently.
Standing up, she peered out the tiny window, its glass long broken out. Rain splattered her dirty face, and it was refreshingly cool. Looking up at the moon, she could’ve sworn someone was sitting there, winking at her. But rubbing her eyes, the figure vanished.
Still the prison shook. Terrified, she leaned up against the far wall.
The shaking stopped.
A huge explosion suddenly blew apart half the prison, revealing her cell to the outside. A dark figure was flying just above the rubble. She recognized the wing-shape instantly, but didn’t really want to believe it. She had given up on hoping for this day.
At the sound of his voice, she broke down into bitter tears. She could not believe it, would not believe it. He could not have come back.
It was impossible. Yet here it was, staring her in the eye.
“You can go now. You’re free.”
Through the rain, she could see tears running down his cheeks. He knew. They both knew.
She pushed off and hovered right in front of him. He was smiling. It was a sad smile, though. He smelled like peppermint and dandelions.
It seemed so odd to hear herself speak. She had not spoken in almost a year.
“It’s your birthday. I thought I’d give you a present.”
She refused to give him the honor of a laugh.
“You’re the one who got me in that place.”
He looked down at his feet.
“I’m not proud.”
“Neither am I.”
He looked at her sadly, making her want to explode with grief.
“I’m sorry too, Aden” she muttered, her voice breaking. “Sorry that all this happened. Sorry that you did what you did.”
Again he stared at his feet.
“I’m sorry because I did it.”
Again she felt like exploding with grief.
“You should go.” he said. “They probably heard the explosion.”
Part of her wanted to throw her arms around him and say all was forgiven. But too much of her was still too heartbroken.
She turned in the opposite direction, pausing only for a second. But soon she was flying, full speed, away from that horrible place. Aden made no attempt to follow her. Instead, he turned and drifted quietly away.
The question burned in his mind, making him go crazy. The question she had asked, and he had never answered.
Why? He still did not have the answer.
“Mama…don’t leave me…please…Mama…please…”
“Willow…Willow, I’m not leaving you…I’ll never leave you…”
It didn’t sound like her mother. The voice was gruffer, definitely male. It sounded almost…charred. No, that made no sense.
“No…but Willow…I’ll never leave you…”
“Who…Who are you?”
“What? What do I have to do?” The sudden urgency in her voice surprised her. It was suddenly a need, a desperate need, to help this mysterious voice.
“Who are you?!” she shrieked. “What do I do?! Where do I go?!”
“Where are you?!”
“Roni…go…to…Roni…the first…clue…will be…there…”
“Roni? Wait, don’t leave me, please!”
She screamed, pain shredding through every cell in her body. It wasn’t her pain, though. No, it felt like all the world’s grief had converged on her.
Two hands pressed down on her shoulders, and she realized she had bolted upright. She opened her eyes.
Roni sighed in relief as she stared blankly at her. “You’re finally awake.”
“I…Roni? Where am I? What’s happening? How’d you get here?”
She frowned. “Would you like anything to drink?”
“Where are we?”
“We’re in Washington. You know, my house?”
“How’d I get here?”
“Well we…we found you. Like, in our backyard. We were passed out, so we brought you inside, and here you are. I’m not sure why you were there…”
Willow stared at her like an idiot. “How long?”
“You’ve been out for almost a day…Willow, are you okay?”
She had started to get up.
“Willow! Lie back down. My mom said you might have a concussion.”
“I have to…I need to…” Willow stuttered, eyes swinging wildly around the room. “I need to find…” She broke down into tears.
“Oh…! Oh, my mom has to hurry up!” cried Roni, pushing Willow all the way down as she screamed. “Crap! I gotta get my phone…”
She fumbled with a thin blue cell phone and pressed it to her ear. “Mom? Oh, thank God! Willow woke up! I think she’s delirious or something…she keeps saying she needs something…what? Um…no. Hurry up!”
She snapped the phone shut and turned back to Willow, who was staring at her. “I needed to find you.” she whispered.
“Well…Well, we found you. Now, please, calm down. My mom will be here soon, and she can help you.”
“Roni…have you…heard anything? About…you know…magic?”
She grimaced. “That site has become more and more popular, but that’s it. I mean, people talk endlessly about how awesome the stories from there are, not just my brother. It’s so stupid. I mean…I know they’re all true, but it’s still dumb how people who don’t know that react to it.”
Willow nodded slightly. “Has anything…happened?”
“Not exactly…” frowned Roni. “I mean, no fairies in Washington, if that’s what you’re asking. Just the blog, really.”
But it’s enough, they both thought together.
“So what are you going to do now?” asked Roni quietly.
Willow felt a surge of pity. She could hear so clearly the longing in Roni’s voice…she wanted to help. Of course. It was an adventure to her, a step into a storybook. Exciting. Any human would want to join the journey. But Roni was human, and just could not keep up.
“I don’t really know.” she sighed. This was only a half-lie. She would find this voice. She would help the mysterious missing person. There was something in that voice that was so comforting, she had to.
“You seem different.” Roni announced, frowning. “Like…Like nothing could make you happy ever again. Like you’re broken. Willow…what happened?”
She stiffened. Why did Roni have to be so observant? She didn’t want to talk about it. Or think about it. “What do you mean? Nothing happened.”
Roni gave a look like a disapproving parent. “Willow.”
“Nothing happened, okay?”
Roni sighed. “You don’t have to tell me, but…well, you know what they say about talking about it. Maybe you’ll feel better.”
She could see that she had hurt her. She grimaced. “Well…it’s a long story.”
“I have time.”
There was no way out. “I…well…I trusted someone…that I shouldn’t have. And…he…” Willow started to cry.
“I’m sorry, Willow.” Roni rushed at the sight of tears. “You don’t have to tell me. Really. Please don’t cry.”
But the tears would not stop. Willow had cried a little, in the beginning, when Aden first betrayed her, but that had been replaced with numbing apathy all too quickly.
She wasn’t even crying about that, though. It had been over a year since she had seen Roni. And yet, still, she was counted as a friend. A best friend. She could feel that. Even now Roni would not abandon her.
The tears did not stop, but Willow could talk again. “Aden.” she whispered. It was enough. Roni understood immediately. She understood the trauma Willow had gone through. She felt it as much as Willow did.
Willow collapsed into Roni’s shoulder and the two girls cried together.