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It was Saturday afternoon and Sage Castbury was bored, as bored as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without raspberry jelly was plain. Sage hated all jelly except for raspberry, a trait she gained from her father who was allergic to grapes and therefore grape jelly. Her homework was not appealing, her friends busy and her house without anything interesting to do. Sage walked to her window and wished something would happen.
The window had an arched top and a flat bottom. It was bare of curtains, but there were ratty paper snowflakes taped to the window left from winter decorating. Sage’s bed didn’t have tall bedposts like she wished; they were boring, no taller than the bed bedposts. Her comforter was dark brown with blue stripes. Sage loved that comforter; it was the envy of all her friends.
If you sat at Sage’s desk, it would take a long while to take it all in. She had countless photo frames with pictures from every vacation that she had taken, there were countless ideas for poems and stories jotted down and taped to the wall above her desk. The surface was cluttered with schoolbooks that Sage didn’t feel like studying from at the moment. Actually, she never felt like studying.
Sage heard the screen door below slam shut.
“Sage! Have you finished your homework? I don’t want you to have to worry about it tomorrow!” Sage’s mother yelled up the stairs. She heard groceries scatter on the kitchen counter below.
“Working on it!” Sage yelled down the steps to her mother.
Sage flopped into her swirly chair and slowly turned around to her school textbooks. She saw the uninviting boring covers, but remembered what her mom had said. Sage picked up her math and got started trying to figure out scientific notation. In Sage’s eyes, it was for no reason, but her math teacher disagreed.
After a grueling hour of homework, Sage’s father arrived at the Castbury home. Remembering it was chess night; Sage rushed downstairs and pulled out her chess set. Sage placed down the board and set up the polished wood pieces. Sage never won, but it was fun to play with her father.
“Dad!” Sage called, “Ready to be demolished?”
“Always am!” Her father called and danced into the room. “What’s my color tonight?”
“Black!” Sage said, “Ready to get started?”
Sage’s father only replied with a move of his pawn.
By the time he set down his piece, Sage was deep in concentration. She could only move a pawn or a horse, because the horse could jump pieces, the only piece that was allowed to. Sage reasoned that it wouldn’t make sense to move her horse because her father could take it in two moves. As Sage’s hand touched the pawn, she felt a strange sensation on her hand, but swatted it away and continued to move her pawn. When she lifted her fingertips from the piece, she was no longer aware of her surroundings; all had turned black. Sage felt like she was being sucked through a vacuum cleaner, squished and squeezed and moving at an incredibly high speed. Or at least she thought she was, for there was nothing around to help her decipher her mph. Sage was utterly amazed by this strange passage, and under the pressure of it all, fainted.
When Sage awoke, she wasn’t in her bed. Not even in her house, for that matter. She awoke with a nose of a young girl in her face. She had sharp features and blue eyes.
“Who are you?” Sage asked.
“My name’s Laryn. What’s yours?” The girl, who apparently was Laryn, replied.
Sage was slow to tell Laryn her name, not knowing if she could trust her. “Sage Castbury. Where am I?”
“Oh! I would expect that you would know, waking up here in Darvina.”
Sage started to tremble, for of course, she did not fall asleep in Darvina, but in the Castbury home. She began to wonder if she was dreaming.
“Are you feeling better? If you are, this is Ebith. She’ll tell you what’s going on, since I have chores to finish.” Laryn spoke quickly, and rushed off before she finished speaking.
“Come,” said the lady who was apparently Ebith. Sage awkwardly stood up and followed Ebith through a series of winding corridors.
“Um, Miss Ebith?” Sage stuttered.
“Call me Ebby!” She cut in. “Carry on!”
Sage began again. “Ebby, where exactly are we going?”
“Can’t tell you now,” Ebby whispered, “The walls will hear us! We must not talk of those things aloud!”
Sage was utterly amazed. She fell into a deep train of thought as they made more winding turns. Sage wondered how Ebby remembered it all.
When the pair reached their destination, there was a large door that looked like it lead outside. Ebby grandly threw the intricate doors wide. She ran out and yelled, “Hello world!”
Sage was deciding that however strange and eccentric Ebby was, she liked her. Sage followed Ebby, who was dancing and singing as if she were a little child.
“Ebby!” Sage cried after her newfound friend. “Aren’t you supposed to teach me something?”
“Oh, right!” Ebby said. “I’m having senior moments lately.” Ebby called as she ran back to Sage.
“Come on! We must go to a safe place to talk. The manor is not one of them!” Ebby explained in a serious tone.
“Why were you in the manor if it was not a safe place to be?” Sage asked.
“It’s the only place that is big enough for all the wounded. They and all that work there have been sworn to silence inside the manor.” Ebby informed Sage.
“How does the manor ‘hear’?” Sage was confused, and had many more questions. “Why are people wounded, if you will tell me?”
“Patience is golden.” Ebby was silent at that.
When Ebby and Sage reached the deep forest, Ebby knocked in a strange pattern on a large sequoia tree. There was a long creaking noise and the tree’s bark opened and spread wide. Ebby walked in and motioned Sage to follow. Sage wasn’t sure how they both would fit inside, but decided that trying could do no bad, so she stepped inside. What Sage saw amazed her. There was much more space inside than the perimeter would allow. On the floor was an intricately woven rug of so many colors that Sage thought that every person in the world could choose their favorite color without matching another’s. There was a large hall with a giant table running through the center. Scattered around the room were various important looking people that were chatting very intensely.
“Who are these people?” Sage wondered aloud.
“They are the Nolans.” Ebby informed Sage.
“Who are they?” Sage was beginning to get frustrated with nobody telling her what was going on.
“Aminta means defender,” Ebby explained. “They are the leaders of our army against the group we call the Nolans, or defender. We have been at war with the Nolans for many years. Some of the Aminta’s grandparents fought the Nolans. We do not know why they are fighting us. The war started such a long time ago that it has been forgotten.”
“Am I supposed to be an Aminta? Sage asked. “Because I can’t do that!”
“Hush! It is your destiny because you are here. We are so close to winning that with you, the Amintas are stronger than the Nolans.”
Sage was silent at that.
Ebby walked further into the room and, while waving to others, Ebby led Sage to a room at the very end of the tree-room.
“This is where you are to sleep.” Ebby told Sage and was gone.
Sage thought it nice to have some alone time. She sprawled on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Not having looked up before, Sage saw that the whole tree was hollow, not just the ground. The wall has decorative swords on it that looked very old to Sage. They had jeweled handles and shiny metal blades. Sage reached into her pocket and pulled out a polished wood pawn. It was from the game of chess with her father! Sage slipped it back into her pocket for good luck and fell asleep in her clothes.
Sage awoke to screams and shouts, clashing and banging. It sounded like a nuclear power plant had exploded. The loud noise brought Sage’s senses right to attention. She slowly crept to the door and peeked out. There was a battle going on, apparently between the Amintas and the Nolans. Sage stared in awe for a few seconds before grabbing a sword from the wall and running out to help.
Once out, Sage didn’t know what to do. She saw Ebby and ran to help her. Ebby was fighting a Nolan of middle age. Neither of them was using swords, though, but just their bare hands. Ebby took one glance at Sage and the sword and motioned her away. She stepped away, but didn’t wait long before rushing in front of the Nolan. She held the sword full length at the Nolan’s heart.
“Don’t come near Ebby!” Sage was then embarrassed because she sounded like a little girl protecting her stuffed animal from a dog.
Ebby pushed Sage away and continued her fight against the Nolan. Feeling unwanted and useless, she turned around, still very alert. Now, in front of Sage was another Nolan, about Sage’s age and strangely enough, reminded Sage of herself, except that her eyes had a glazed over appearance. Sage jumped back and in the process knocked Ebby over. Sage was now in a state of confusion. Who was this girl and why was she fighting so young?
“Probably same reason I am…” Sage muttered. She turned around and helped Ebby up. The Nolan fighting Ebby was long gone, thinking Ebby was gone from the blow of Sage’s swaying arm. Without saying a word, Ebby lead Sage away from the corner, running through the crammed tree to Sage’s room.
“What were you doing?” Ebby hissed. However hard Ebby tried, she couldn’t make her voice sound harsh. “Do you even know what’s going on out there?”
“Aren’t the Nolans attacking?” Sage asked. “You said I could defeat them!”
“Not without training! I don’t know how they knew we were here, though. We thought the Nolans believed that this was just another sequoia tree. This is strange, very strange indeed…” Ebby was drifting out into thought, so Sage walked to the bed and flopped down. Ebby was still babbling about what a strange occurrence this was, so Sage reached into her pocket again. She pulled out the pawn and rubbed her fingers over it. Sage noticed detail she had never seen before, like little people in a row around the neck of the piece. You could barely tell they were there, like a salt crystal against freshly laid snow, but it was no doubt they were.
“Ebby?” Sage asked. “Who was that girl that looked so much like me, but sort of out of it?”
“Here in Darvina every person has a worse self. That was your worse self, trying to bring you down. If you want to succeed, you must destroy your worst self.”
“What?!” Sage was trying to contain herself, but this was getting way too crazy. Now she had a list of people she had to destroy.
“Don’t worry,” Ebby said. “All you have to do is believe in yourself and remember that anything is possible.”
“OK?” Sage was not sure what to think of this “worse self.” Sage began to stare into space, deep in thought. Ebby saw that she was tired, so Ebby slipped out the door and left Sage in peace.
The next morning everyone in the sequoia was called to help tear it down and take out all evidence that they had ever been there. They could not risk the Nolans finding any remains to give them any help. The whole residency was quickly gathering their belongings and burning anything that either held too much information or was too useless to be carried to their new home. Sage owned nothing but the clothes on her back and the pawn in her pocket. She could never depart with the pawn, so she never sold anyone that it existed. It was the only thing that kept her from falling down and screaming for her room, her parents, even her math homework.
Not having to sift through her own belongings, Sage wandered outside. The surroundings of the sequoia reminded Sage of California, with the endlessly tall trees and pine needles coating the forest floor. The sun was creating rays shining through the clearings in the forest. Sage knelt and let a handful of pine needles sift through her fingers. She noticed that the needles were covered in sap, so wiped her hands on her pant legs and stood up, looking for a stream to wash her hands in. Sage remembered passing a small stream with crystal clear water when Ebby took her to the sequoia. She recalled they arrived from the back of the sequoia, so circled around the tree and started walking towards the stream. Finally completely alone, Sage felt a relief, for now she had a time to think to herself. Sage sifted through the new information in her head like she had with the pine needles. She wandered through the forest until she saw the trickling stream. Sage knelt by the bank and dipped her fingertip into the water to test the temperature. It sent a shock through Sage’s body; it was the coldest water she had ever felt. Sage jerked her hand away. Slowly, Sage’s fingers crept toward the water. She scrubbed ferociously at her fingers and quickly took them back out.
“I did it!” Sage thought, “Mind over matter!” And without knowing it, Sage destroyed a small part of her worse self. Sage dried her hands and returned to the sequoia, where everyone was ready to go. She wove her way through the mass of Amintas to find Ebby. Ebby was dragging a suitcase, a ragged one at that, which was stuffed to the brim.
“Hi Ebby!” Sage felt a load off her back; she was happy and jumpy after the visit to the stream. “Can I help you with your suitcase?”
“Yes, please!” Ebby lifted her arms from her suitcase and stepped back so Sage could lift it. A startling voice called over the mass of people to forward march. Sage looked forward and saw a man, one she remembered that had a particularly large voice. The suitcase in one hand and Ebby’s in the other, Sage set off away from the sequoia.
“Where are we going to stay from now on?” Sage had been wondering this since the battle last night.
“Can’t say,” Ebby replied. “Probably the first good place that comes up. Maybe we’ll stay in a cave; perhaps we’ll extend a rabbit’s burrow. That’s a tough thing to do, though. By the way, if we’re walking this long while, we might as well have fun! You’re it!” Sage darted off with Ebby following closely behind. The two were having the grandest time, and Sage almost forgot all her troubles.
The group had decided to stay on the forest floor after a long hour of debate. The trekkers needed rest and the ultimate decision was to camp under the stars. Sage, having no blankets, pulled off her hoodie since it was warm and snuggled up around it, staring at the stars. It wasn’t long until Sage fell asleep.
When Sage awoke, the camp was aflutter. Those gifted at cooking were making breakfast with any food they could find. There was scrambled eggs in taco shells, cold oatmeal and pretty much anything you could think of. Sage was groggy from her sleep, but managed to get up and pull her hoodie back on. She looked around for someone to talk to, and surprisingly saw Laryn! Sage walked to her.
“Laryn! I haven’t seen you lately.”
“Oh, Sage! Last night was so scary! I saw you through a keyhole, you were so brave!” Sage had never felt this kind of flattery before. She didn’t know how to respond.
“Really? I was just helping Ebby.” Sage smiled and nudged her head towards Ebby.
“You’re just being modest, I know it!” Laryn replied. Laryn and Sage walked toward her sleeping area. “This is my brother, Jaban. He worked in the building you arrived at also.” Jaban looked about 15. He had long brown hair and wore a white button up shirt that was missing a few buttons. Jaban looked at Sage, burped and went to eat breakfast.
Laryn giggled, “He’s not exactly very friendly!” Sage and Laryn knelt on the forest floor. They gathered Laryn’s things into her burnt orange shoulder bag that reminded Sage of a pool bag one of her friends used. When everything was in the bag, everyone in camp was ready to march. They were hoping to find somewhere to live for it was not very safe to stay in the open with the Nolans at large. However of this great danger, spirits and morale were high.
Sage asked Laryn, “Can I go find Ebby? I’ll be right back.”
“Of course! But only if I can come!” Laryn was also a friend of Ebby’s. They had known each other since Laryn was born. “C’mon!” Laryn and Sage rushed off through the crowd.
Sage felt hands grab her back. She jumped almost as high as the Empire State building. The hands were cold and made Sage roll her neck back and cringe. Sage could see Laryn staring in shock at her holder. Luckily, the two were close to finding Ebby, and she stepped in by surprising the attacker-and Sage-by showing extreme strength and kicking him square in the back. He placed his hands on his back and bared his teeth in pain and agony.
Sage rushed from his grip and hugged Ebby, murmuring, “Thank you, thank you…” But before Sage could think, the rest of the Nolan armies rushed in to take control of the Amintas. Before Sage could even contemplate what was going on, she was hit in the head and everything went black.
Sage found herself collapsed on an intricate tile floor in a throne room. Like her old room in the sequoia, there were swords on the wall, except these were shiny, sharp and new instead of rusty and dull.
“She is awake!” A booming voice echoed through the room. Sage jerked her head up and stood. The voice belonged to a large man on a jeweled throne. His face was firm, yet wrinkled. “You are not in our records, and by my law must be destroyed as you come from other lands! What is your name?”
“Um…” Sage was still groggy.
“I asked what your name was!” The man was beginning to get grumpy.
“Sage Castbury!” Sage blurted.
“Then you most definitely are not! Kill her!” As he said this, the man stood up and slammed his staff to the ground. Guards, both men and women, came in from all sides. They held spears at arms length and marched towards Sage. Sage’s thoughts were moving rapidly. She told herself, “I can do this.” And this destroyed Sage’s worse self destroyed and she immediately knew what to do.
Sage reached into her pocked and pulled out the pawn. She held it at arm’s length as it started to glow a bright green, almost blinding Sage. Around her, Sage caught glimpses of Jaban and Ebby, Laryn and most importantly, her father whirling around the room. They were not transparent and not opaque, Sage couldn’t tell.
As the pawn glowed brighter, the guards started to pop like a balloon and fall into a neat pile of dust. All the half-ghosts gathered in a circle around Sage and held hands, with Sage in the direct center. Sage stretched her hand more to spread the glow.
And Sage was back in the armchair with her father.
“Checkmate.” And Sage won. She defied what she thought she could do and believed in herself. From that day on, all Sage had to do to conquer something tough was to remember her times in Darvina.