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Author's note: I finally decided to write about writers. It feels like cheating, it's so easy.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
The alarm clock burst to life in the early morning darkness. A figure in the bed rolled over, made a groaning noise and then, as the alarm stopped, fell promptly back to sleep. It lasted only a few minutes.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
“Alright…. Alright already…” the figure shoved the blankets aside long enough to smack the clock with her hand and send it careening off the edge, crashing to the floor. This jerked her awake, and she sat up with a startled noise. “What the—?” she spotted the clock. “Oh.” She blinked. Upon realizing it was time to awaken, she stretched her arms into the air, gave a splitting yawn, and then pulled herself to her feet. She snatched a robe from the corner of her bed and pulled it blearily on as she shuffled across the carpet to her bathroom.
The light glared at her angrily and she shielded her eyes as she walked over to the sink and looked in the mirror. She jumped. Her deep brown hair was wilder than a Picasso, and she had rings under her eyes, no doubt proof that she had stayed up too late again. She rubbed a zit that was forming on her left cheek and made a face at it before opening the mirror and taking hold of her medicine bottle.
Johnson, Merry. Take one twice a day until prescribed again.
“Hm,” she said, and popped one in her mouth, downing it quickly with a shot of tap water. She looked back in the mirror and into her own, glistening amber eyes. “Today,” she told her reflection as she squirted toothpaste on her brush, “is my birthday.”
She smiled to herself, and watched as her reflection began brushing her teeth. It was almost as if it would spring to life and begin doing things on its own, but Mother said that was just her overactive imagination.
“You do have an overactive imagination,” Merry commented informatively, mouth leaking toothpaste, to the mirror. “But then again… that’s why you’re a writer.”
The reflection merely put the brush back in her mouth and continued brushing. After that it was the shower, then hair hair-combing, and then squirming into the jeans her father had bought her last week for no discernible reason.
“Grr,” she growled at the jeans as she struggled to heft them up. “You’d think my dad would know I’m not a size eight.” Dismally, she shed them and instead slipped on her comfortable size ten. Disregarding the matter from her mind promptly, she took her dirty clothes back to her room and dumped them down the laundry chute before stretching again. She quickly fed her goldfish, then looked around, satisfied. Her eyes fell on the desk by her bed.
“Ooh,” she said. She slipped over to it like she imagined a ninja would and sat, cracking her knuckles. “Merry Johnson goes to work.” She began to type.
The sun rose high above the war camp, but nothing stirred. Lore awoke with the first rays, but quickly found the air silent. Confused, he lifted his head and looked around, but there was no one. He furrowed his brow and frowned.
“Hello?” he called, struggling against the bonds that held him to the pole. “Hello, where is everyone?”
Nobody replied, and the lone elf struggled again. The ropes were too strong. He frowned again. They had taken his armor, weapons, and necklace, so he direly hoped they were still around to give them back. His fingers worked at the knot keeping him securely with his back to the pole, but it was so tight he couldn’t even begin to grasp it. Becoming desperate, he looked around for anything that might be able to help him.
There, a dagger. It was stuck point-first in the ground to his right, but it was far away. Perhaps if he reached out with his foot… Shedding his boot, he scooted around until he was facing the dagger, and then extended his foot as far as it would go in an attempt to grab it. It was just barely out of reach.
“Oh come on,” he muttered under his breath. He stared at it for a few moments before trying again, stretching to the limit. Again, it was just a little too far out of reach.
Out of nowhere, a long, loud howl suddenly wafted into the camp, and he froze, eyes wide. It sounded like a desert wolf, but they were near enough to the oasis for it to be a forest wolf too. Gulping, he wondered if it could be a desert Screecher, but they were so rare, it put his mind at ease.
Fighting the ropes again with no luck, he shifted around the pole again. He looked up at the sky and saw that it was about six o’ clock in the morning.
“Where is everyone?” he asked again, sounding frustrated. He slid his foot back into his boot wisely before kicking the dust and grumbling. If he was ever going to get out of here, he would have to find either some kind of sharp blade, or a rescuer… the latter of which he doubted was anywhere in range. He wondered how hot it would get during the day, and if he could survive on his own without dying.
As if his silent prayers had been heard, he suddenly heard footsteps. Freezing, he listened intently as they drew nearer. His keen ears picked up two voices and two pairs of footsteps before he realized they were coming in his direction. He thought they were his captors and before they arrived, he ducked his head and sat down once more, appearing asleep. Keeping his eye open just a crack, he waited and watched until the footsteps came around the corner of the last tent. They were directly ahead of him and he was unable to see who they were, but he decided to keep his head ducked anyway. Then, a voice.
“Lore!” his eyes jerked open. “I found you!” Looking up, he saw Cheera ahead of him, followed closely by some sort of old healer man in a dark robe. Lore narrowed his eyes at the cloaked figure as the young elf woman rushed up to him. “You idiot, how did you manage to get captured again?!”
“It happened at night,” he informed her, keeping his eyes on the man. “Who is that?”
“An old healer with magic that brought me to you,” she said, slashing the ropes that held his wrists easily. He broke free and flexed his hands. Lore was still suspicious.
“Are you sure?”
The old cloaked figure waved at him cheerfully and smiled, but Lore still sensed something was off. He narrowed his eyes.
Merry stopped as someone knocked on her door.
“Merry!” Her mother’s voice sounded bored, but still demanding. “It’s time to get up!”
“Already up, mom!” she shouted, annoyed.
“Are you ready for school?”
“I was half an hour ago!” she replied, before turning back to her story.
“Something about him is odd,” Lore whispered to Cheera as she helped him to his feet. She spotted his chaffed wrists and shook her head.
“You’re the only person I know who can
“Merry!” her mom shouted again, and the teen smashed her fists on her desk angrily.
“Don’t forget today you have to turn in your paper!”
Merry rolled her eyes. “I have it ready!” Muttering to herself, she resumed typing.
…get yourself injured every day of the week,” she snapped. Lore shrugged her off and approached the old man.
“What’s your name?” he asked, wondering if
“Oh, and Merry?” her mother said from the other side of the door, and Merry balled up her fists and made a gremlin face at her screen.
“Yes?” she asked, slowly.
“You have to be home by three o’ clock today,” she said sternly. Merry nearly choked.
“Just do it.”
“ You know I go to Sean’s house after school!”
Merry let her forehead rest on her desk. “Don’t do this to me, mom! We’re planning to-”
“Just be home by three o’ clock,” her mother interrupted sternly.
“Because,” she replied, sounding as if she thought the conversation was wasting time. “Your birthday is today.”
“Oh.” Merry didn’t get the chance to say anything else as her mother moved away from the door and headed downstairs. Slanting her mouth at her story, she sighed. Then she glanced at the clock and jumped. “I’ll have to pick this up later,” she said to herself, quickly saving it and shutting the laptop lid. She leaped up from her computer seat and ran for the bed before scooping up her backpack and racing out the door and down the stairs. She was glad school ended in a week.
Her house was enormous. Even she would admit it, if anyone asked, but since everyone around here had an enormous house, nobody ever thought to inquire. She pattered down the stairs in her socks and entered the kitchen casually.
Even for her rich parents, they had done an exceptional job decorating the kitchen. It had a bay window, and skylights, and a full-sized dining table in the middle of the room that still didn’t take up much room. A maid was setting the table while her father sat at the other end of the white table-clothed table and flipped slowly through the morning paper. Her mother sat beside him, stirring her tea, and her two brothers sat side by side nearby.
Of everyone in her family, the only person she really talked to was her older brother, Tristan. He was seventeen – two years older than her, as of today – and because he never judged her writing, she felt he never judged her. But he still wasn’t as good a partner as Sean. He was a calm, thin person with pale skin, blue eyes, and dark hair, like their father, but he never really spoke unless spoken to.
Her younger brother was Mark. He was in fifth grade, had the same complexion as Merry, and was terribly loud. He was as annoying as younger siblings could get, especially when he was telling dumb, fifth-grader jokes and flinging his food about, like now. Merry expertly dodged a flying spoonful of cornflakes and made a face at him, sitting on the other side of Tristan.
“Don’t make Carrie clean that up,” she scolded. The maid scurried by and cleaned it up anyway. Merry shook her head at Mark superiorly. “See what you did?”
“I don’t care,” Mark said simply, eating a spoonful as Mother looked over, just in case. She looked back toward Father and resumed their hushed conversation.
Merry looked at the table, scooped up a bagel, and put it on her plate. Some scrambled eggs, orange juice, and two slices of bacon joined it before she began eating.
“I shouldn’t be eating all this,” she thought, but went on chewing anyway. She finished up as quickly as she could without choking – or being hit with cornflakes – and then slipped into the main hall, leaving her chattering younger sibling behind.
If the kitchen was impressive, the main hall was a palace. It was laden with expensive objects her mother thought were pretty or matched the room appropriately, since her mother was an interior designer. She could have done without spending that much money on decoration, but he humored his wife often enough.
Merry slipped across the red plush rug and over to where her knee-high converse shoes were leaned against the wall. She put her backpack down beside it as she slipped the shoes on and zipped them up. She was tiptoeing for the door, backpack in hand, when Tristan’s voice interrupted her.
“Aren’t you going to wait for me?”
She stopped in mid-step and glanced over her shoulder at him, annoyed. He was lacing up his converses as well, but his were only ankle-high.
“Right, right,” she said, sighing. “I keep forgetting we’re on the same bus now.”
“Yep,” he said simply, and then stood, heaving his backpack up onto his shoulder. Merry opened the door and they headed outside onto the huge, white stone steps that led up to their house. From there they walked down the stone-and-gravel path as Merry glanced up through the orange trees to the great, California sky.
“Oh,” said Tristan randomly as they exited the wrought-iron gate and stood at their usual post by the large oak tree that marked their mansion on the long street of expensive homes in Rolling Hills. “And happy birthday.”
Merry was slightly surprised that he had remembered. “So you had it marked down on your pocket calendar, eh?” she elbowed him. “Not that you got me anything though. I know you.”
“Sure I did,” Tristan replied, seeming half-interested. Merry perked up.
“You did? What? What did you get me? Will I like it? I hope it’s not clothes. Is it clothes?”
“No clothes,” he said.
“What is it?”
He shook his head.
“Oh please! Tell me!”
“Pssh,” she gave up and leaned on the oak tree, crossing her arms. “I guess I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I?” They waited in silence for a minute or two before Merry took out her ‘NaNoWriMo’ keychain and began swinging it on her finger. Tristan eyed it but said nothing. The bus suddenly rounded the far corner and began lumbering down the street, stopping in front of the other houses on their street, and Merry picked up her backpack.
When the bus arrived they mounted the stairs and while Tristan dumped himself on the foremost seat beside Alice – a girl he liked – Merry tromped to the very rear of the vehicle and plopped down beside a skinny boy about her age but much taller, his nose buried in a book.
“Hi Sean,” she said as the bus rumbled into motion again.
“Hi,” he said, lost in another world. Merry smiled to herself and waited, tapping her fingers and humming happily. After a minute or two, Sean looked up to check something in his backpack, and he noticed Merry’s foot.
“Oh,” he said, looking up. “Hi Merry. Where’d you come from?” He had a notable Irish accent, and he wore reading glasses, although he usually took them off for non-book-related activities. His face was smattered in freckles and his hair was a slightly lighter shade of black than Tristan’s, while his eyes were a light, soft green.
“I’ve been here,” she replied, giving him a false accusing look, her arms crossed. “You didn’t even notice when the bus picked me up.”
“Eh, I was reading Poe,” he explained, waving the book in her face. “I don’t notice much of anything when I’m reading Poe.”
“So I figured.” Merry giggled. “Remember what today is?”
Sean pretended to think for a moment as the bus pulled to a slow stop in front of another house. He rubbed his chin, then snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “It’s Five Months to NaNoWriMo day!” he exclaimed. “June first.” Merry rolled her eyes dramatically.
“No, idiot,” she said, smacking him over the head. He chuckled.
“I know, I know,” he replied, laughing to himself. He glanced at his book, but then decided to go for a green notebook instead, which was resting by his backpack. “Happy birthday. But that aside, have you been thinking about your next Camp ‘WriMo challenge?”
“Doofus, of course I have,” she replied, delving into her backpack and pulling out her own notebook. They both flipped their notepads open at the same time and came to their planning pages. Merry’s was crowned with a curving title in spiraling letters. Several of them, to be correct, since she hadn’t decided on the official title yet, but each one was satisfactorily fitting. She pointed at one she had circled in blue. “What do you think of this one?”
Sean slipped his reading glasses on and peered at the notebook. He gave her a raised eyebrow look.
“ ‘Rainbow Legend’?” he asked, sounding dubious. Merry slanted her mouth at him.
“Come on, the crystal is rainbow-colored. I wanted the title to have something to do with the book.” She glanced at his notebook and raised her eyebrow at his title too. “Unlike ‘Complete Reaction’. That just sounds like a science project’s concluding paragraph.” Sean rolled his eyes and pulled a pen out of his back pocket, clicking it open.
“It does have something to do with the story,” he reminded her, scribbling a side note in the margins. “Remember, Doctor Yasha is a scientist.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Merry sighed and scribbled in her margins as well. “But how can you stand writing real-world fiction? Fantasy is so much more… free.”
“Freer,” Sean corrected, continuing to scribble. “Oh, what was the name of your protagonist, again? It was something cliché, that’s all I remember.” Merry punched him in the arm.
“Eclipse,” she reminded him as he rubbed his shoulder. “She’s a swordswoman, and not really a protagonist.”
“Is she one of those not-so-good good guys?”
“No, not particularly,” Merry said thoughtfully, pursing her lips and tapping them with her pen. “She’s just… not a “hero” type. She’s more like the type that doesn’t do stuff for other people. She’s a carefree character. Doesn’t really do anything except commissions…. Or… something. She’s kind of new.”
“She’s not like… that other guy, then? The one elf guy…?”
“Lore.” Merry smiled to herself, and shrugged, letting out a happy sigh. “Lore will do anything for attention, it seems. He got captured by the enemy last night and Cheera just saved him.” She wondered how Lore, as new a character as he was, managed to capture her attention as well as he had. “And she’s only known him for, like, a chapter and a half.”
“You’ll have to let me read it.”
“Sometime,” she said, turning back to her notebook. “For now… I have to plan. I want to characterize Eclipse. She seems really interesting.”
“And I need to figure out who’s going to fund Doctor Yasha this time.”
Merry laughed. Sean was so easy to talk to. Everything they said to one another was understandable to her. Nobody else in the school was a writer except them, and the dorky journalism club, but they didn’t count. To Merry and Sean, writing was special, but everyone else just thought they were weirdoes. But she was ok with that.
Somehow, her thoughts drifted back to Lore. Almost absentmindedly, she wondered if he would get out of the camp without further injury. The man in the cloak was of course the main villain, and Lore had probably caught onto that, but what confused her was how Cheera hadn’t. She was usually so keen about everything and everyone.
“Hmm…” Merry muttered to herself. Sean looked up from his incessant scrawling curiously.
The school bus jolted to a stop as they pulled up in front of the school, and Merry picked up her backpack.
“I’ll tell you later. Come on, we have to get to class.”
“Bummer.” Sean slipped his glasses away as Merry bounced forward to walk with Tristan to the high school. The long day had begun.
Lore angrily sat down on a nearby rock, chin on his hands, looking pouty.
“Right when we were getting to the good part,” he mumbled. Cheera leaned on the pole and made a bored face, glancing up at the clouds and letting a long, loud sigh. She flicked her golden braids over her shoulder and made a nasty face.
“Why do we have to wait, again?” she asked loudly. The man in the cloak sat down beside Lore casually, but nobody answered. Cheera threw her arms up into the air and let out an exasperated noise. “Because our writer is a little girl still being weaned on an education!” She pushed off the pole and stormed around in a frustrated circle. Her spear and shield were thrown on the ground nearby, next to Lore’s bow and arrows, and the villain’s electrified sword.
“I will admit,” the cloaked man said, not sounding in the least bit old. “This is rather boring.”
“Boring?! Boring?!” Cheera kicked her spear and it went flying, sticking neatly into the ground by a tent and vibrating. “This is going to melt my brain! I’m sick of being stuck in these scenes and waiting for someone to turn the laptop on again!”
“I take it as an opportunity for a nap,” the cloaked man said with a happy sigh, putting his hands behind his head and leaning on the tent behind him. Lore glanced over and caught sight of his profile. He jumped up, pointing.
“You’re the man from the castle!” he shouted, startling the cloaked figure. He paused, thinking. “Hey, doesn’t that mean you’re the one who killed Cheera’s cousin?” Cheera whirled around.
The cloaked man shrugged. “Yeah, so what? He was a preening, conniving idiot of a prince. He deserved to be kille- OW!” Cheera sent him sprawling as she kicked him violently in the ear.
“He was still related to me, moron!” she yelled. She paused. “Although, that means I can kill you quickly and get out of that oath I took to avenge him.”
“The author’s going to get a kick out of this,” Lore pointed out cheerfully as he tried to scale a tent pole. The female elf shrugged, rattling the numerous beads and wooden carvings hanging from her necklaces and bracelets.
“The oath was mandatory, really. He was related. And royalty. Everybody sort of expected his trained-warrior cousin to go after his killer.” She sat down in the cloaked man’s spot as he got to his feet, rubbing the side of his head indignantly.
“You have an interesting attack method,” he pointed out, almost sadly. She nodded absentmindedly.
Lore, by this time, was on top of the tent and crawling along the main beam happily, much like a lemur. He reached the other side and peered down, then followed an imaginary line as it darted away to the edge of the camp, and then to the forest beyond. He tilted his head and pursed his lips. On the other side of the tent, he could hear Cheera and the villainous killer chatting it out casually, but their conversation was no longer interesting.
“Merry’s going to be disappointed,” he mused, feeling semi-guilty at discovering her plot twist before the story was ready. He would have to pretend to be as shocked as he would have, if the story were convincing enough. Just like he did every time.
He suddenly felt very oppressed for some reason, and let out a long sigh. His light brown eyes wandered toward the forest’s edge. His mind drifted. “…I wonder what’s over there…” he whispered to no one. He lowered himself down and sat on top of the tent, still acting like a lemur for no discernible reason.
The wind picked up a little and blew his fine, black hair around. A hair brushed his ear and he flicked it offhandedly, wondering where Merry had gone, and when she would be back, and why she always had to leave in the first place. He didn’t know how he knew her name was Merry – it came to him one night in a dream, one that Merry hadn’t written, in an In-Between session. He shrugged.
The forest seemed so close.
He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Cheera and the nameless villain were still chatting, and then grinned. Slowly, silently, he eased himself over the edge of the tent and landed on both feet with a thump, his boots soft from being nearly worn out. He cackled silently to himself and then stole off toward the forest’s edge, wondering what lay beyond.
It only took a few minutes to reach the wooded edge, where the terrain abruptly switched from dry, salt grass to bright green bushes with waxy leaves. The way the wind rushed between the leaves and rustled them seemed to beckon him, and he took a step forward. This was technically something he wasn’t supposed to be doing, but he’d never tried it before. He was supposed to be the mellow one.
“This is brilliant!” Lore suddenly exclaimed as he shouldered his way through some thick underbrush, his steps quickening. “Why did I never think of this before?” His smile grew as he stepped out into a lush, dark green clearing, sunlight pouring down through the leaves and dappling the ground. Something about being this free from Merry, and from the others, seemed relieving, almost. It made him feel like his own person.
Casually, he made his way deeper into the forest, all the while eyeing the trees and shrubs surrounding him. This certainly was different, eyeing everything from a different viewpoint. There was no narration constantly hanging over his head, telling him what to do. He was available to do anything he wanted. Anything at all.
Curious as to what that entailed, he glanced around and spotted a large tree. He eyed it, grinned at it, and then darted for it before scaling the first few branches quite easily. Once he was high enough, he straddled a large branch and looked down. It seemed quite far –but with no writer to detail the injuries…
“Can I even get hurt?” he asked aloud, and a small chickadee flew off a branch slightly above him, startled. Shrugging, he simply tilted sideways and let himself slide off, tumbling down the tree. He bounced off a few branches with a good-sized ‘oof!’ before falling on his face in the soft, left-over leaves. He lay there for a few moments. After a minute, he raised his head and dazedly blinked
“…oh,” he said slowly. He pulled himself stiffly into a sitting position and looked around him, nursing a throbbing arm and a cut on his face. “Well… I’m still free, aren’t I?” he looked up at the sky and wondered if he could will himself to fly. Sadly, after he tried, he wondered what about being free was different from being tied to a writer.
“I need to find out.”
He go to his feet and stood, surveying the woods and wondering if there were any dangerous animals about for him to slay bravely, while being heroic and dashing at the same time. That was something Merry would never let him do, since the situation had already been avoided twice in the woods when he and Cheera had been tracking the cloaked man.
She seemed to be partial to Cheera, he realized, as he began making his way through the woods again. Maybe it was because they were both women, or girls, at least. He stuck out this lower lip but didn’t really take it that badly. Instead he peered around the trunk of a large tree, where he immediately spotted a large paw print sitting starkly in the middle of an otherwise smooth patch of mud.
“Oooooh,” he said, interested immediately. He sneaked toward it after sliding lithely around the tree, tiptoeing like his master had taught him – whoever that was… Merry hadn’t written anything about him yet – and crouched beside it, tracing the shape of it with his fingers. “Screecher.”
Almost instantly a loud, haunting, spine-tingling, strangled scream sounded from deeper in the forest, making Lore jump, lose his footing, and fall onto his back. A haunting breeze carrying the scent of flowers filled the silence as e stared with wide eyes into the darkness behind the farthest trees and gulped. A moment later, he smiled.
“Well,” he commented softly, his voice barely resonating through the air. He got to his feet silently and began stalking toward the sound. “I wonder what Cheera will think when she hears about this…”
Meanwhile, Cheera was still talking to the cloaked man.
“…and then, you know… I was twelve, he was eleven. And I’ve always been better trained then him, you know?”
The man in the cloak was half-sliding off his seat beside her with his legs draped out over the sandy grass, wondering of this torment would ever end.
“…so I just sort of… hit him in the nose,” the elfin woman continued, mimicking the motion with a sly smile. She pulled back with a happy sigh and leaned against the tent. The man in the cloak slid off the seat entirely and lay on his back in the sunlight, letting out a little musical sigh. Cheera glanced at him.
“Well,” the man moaned, his voice droning. “That was an interesting story. Want to hear about the time I-?”
“Oh!” Cheera exclaimed, sitting upright and spreading her hands. “There was this hilarious time when Lore and I were going through the ravine… this was a few days ago, mind you… wasn’t it? Hey! Lore! Weren’t we in the ravine just a few days ago? The one in the…?” She trailed off, glancing around. “Lore…?” She looked at the pole, then an abandoned fire pit, then the tent behind her. She slowly realized what he’d done, and balled her fists, her cheeks tinting red.“ Lore!” she hollered, leaping to her feet and scooping up her spear. “Where’d you go?!”
“He left,” the cloaked man sighed, motioning tiredly over the other side of the tent, still on his back in the sand. Cheera sent a kick in his direction, missed, but walked off swiftly anyway.
“Stay here until I get back, scum,” she ordered, stalking off around the tent, muttering. Lore was in huge trouble now.
The day had been long. Too long. Merry dragged herself onto the bus and plopped down into her seat before letting her head fall back and her arms and legs drop limp. She popped open her medicine bottle and took one quickly.
“Uuuugh,” she moaned, closing her eyes as Sean went over her and sat down by the window. “I hate life. Officially.”
“This is because of the math quiz, isn’t it?” the Irish boy asked casually, taking a bite of an apple and searching for his reading glasses. Merry tried to nod, found she couldn’t while her head was tipped back, and instead let out a breath.
“Yes,” she affirmed, opening her eyes. “He didn’t have to spring it on us like that. He could have waited until we finished studying.”
“Aye,” Sean replied devilishly. Merry glared at him. She hated it when he talked Irish.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, pulling herself up straight, glaring at the brilliance of the overhead sun on the sparkling neighborhood outside. “And I can’t even come to your house today…” Sean made a startled noise and jerked his head up.
“Yeah. Apparently my mom wants me to come back to my house at 3 o’ clock sharp and not leave again today.” Sean shook his head.
“I want to come to your birthday party,” he lamented resting his head on the seat in front of him, apple in hand.
“But you have your mom,” she said, sighing. “I know. I wanted you to come too…” she tried not to sound disappointed, but it must have shown. Sean patted her on the back and sat up straight again.
“Next time,” he said, trying to be reassuring. The bus pulled up to Sean’s house and he stood. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He wormed his way down the aisle and exited the bus. Sean’s stop was a little bit out of town, but since the school was so close to the city border, he was one of the first pickups and drop-offs. His home wasn’t nearly as grand as Merry’s, or the rest of the school’s students’. As the bus pulled away, the small, two-story country house seemed dilapidated, and the lawn a little under-cared for. Merry waved briefly out the window to Sean before settling back and doodling in her notebook until the bus got to her house.
She practically slugged off the bus and dragged her feet to the front door, not waiting for Tristan. Upon reaching the front door she peeked in to make sure no surprise birthday was going to jump out at her, and upon seeing none, sneaked in. She deftly removed her shoes before tiptoeing quickly upstairs, running down the hall to her room, and shutting the door tightly. She locked it for good measure.
“Ok,” she breathed, letting her back rest on the door. “Now I can write.” She pushed herself up and fake-staggered across the room to her laptop, switching it on. A minute later, she pulled up her word processor and clicked on her novel.
‘Untitled For Now’
“I need to change that,” she sighed, scrolling down to where she had left off. It read:
The clearing in the camp was empty except for the cloaked man, who lay sprawled on the ground, driveling about something that happened a long time ago.
Merry eyed the last sentence suspiciously.
“I don’t remember writing that…” She scrolled up to see if anything else had changed, but it was all, to her satisfaction, narration she remembered writing. Again, she eyed the last sentence suspiciously, but finally decided she either did it in her haste to leave for school, or left it for herself to laugh at. Either way, she deleted the sentence and picked up where she left off.
…the man was really as bulky as his cloak made him appear. He was reeking of magic, but it was so hard to pick up that…
Merry stopped, looking at her fingers. The scene just didn’t feel right. “Come on,” she said, back-spacing for a moment. She tried again.
…the man was really as bulky as his cloak made him appear. Lore could sense a lot of magic drifting from him, and it was setting off his instincts like crazy to prepare for a fight.
“Hmm,” said Merry, eyeing the screen. “Lore isn’t supposed to be able to do that…” but it seemed right, leaving it that way, so she did.
Lore narrowed his eyes and tightened his grip on his bow, ready to attack.
“What’s your name?” he asked again, trying to be as direct as possible. His fingers moved and suddenly he grinned. He knew who was under the cloak, and he had no idea how Cheera didn’t.
“My name is of no consequence,” the man replied, his smile widening to match Lore’s. His voice was that of an old man, but something about it seemed faked. The elf twirled his bow casually and he began to approach the man.
“If your name is of no consequence, then you must be a person of no consequence, am I right?” His tone was somewhat mocking. The man in the cloak twitched, but didn’t falter.
“If you wish to believe that,” he replied, letting his voice slip momentarily. He sounded surprisingly like a younger man, but he covered it up with a cough. Lore got closer and closer, until he was nearly face-to-face with the man, staring him down and trying to get a good look at his face. The hood was pulled down too far.
“No really,” he said, trying to be persuasive. “You have to be someone.” He leaned forward to the man’s face and, grinning widely, slyly smiled. “You’re here for more than to just show Cheera where I was.”
The man seemed angry.
“Who are you?” he asked, his voice wavering as he eyed the elf’s minor injuries and cuts. Lore narrowed his eyes at him.
“No one of consequence,” he replied, and then whipped his bow out, jabbing the cloaked man in the stomach. He doubled over but fell back and rolled away.
“What are you doing?!” Cheera ran over to assist the man, the light blue, light blue, rune-like designs on the bridge of her nose and cheeks glowing, but Lore held her back.
“Wait,” he warned. “He’s not…”
“An old man?” the man stood to full height and threw off his cloak grandly, revealing the army uniform beneath, and the many weapons strapped to his belt, arms, and legs. He was young, his hair long and white, with streaks of dark blue. His eyes were a piercing green. Cheera gasped. “You would be right to say as such. I am no old man merely looking to help a useless elf woman…”
“Hey…” Cheera glared at him.
“…I am a true warrior! I singlehandedly destroyed the young prince of the elf kingdom! And my army is now marching there to-”
“You what?!” Cheera and Lore shouted simultaneously, shocked.
“You killed my cousin!” Cheera yelled.
“Did I?” he asked, smiling wide and revealing pearly white teeth. “You must be royalty then, if I’m not mistaken.” The two elves prepared to fight, lifting their weapons.
Merry typed happily away for an hour. The following fight scene was long and absorbing, and although Cheera pulled some pretty slick moves, Merry’s attention seemed to have switched to Lore.
“He’s a lot cleverer with that bow than I thought he’d be,” she thought as her elf spin-kicked the cloaked man before using the bow to jab his gut. “He was supposed to be pretty helpless… but I like him better this way.” She didn’t realize how much time had passed until she glanced at the clock on her computer and realized it was 4:30. She started, and looked around. “Wasn’t something supposed to happen at three o’ clock…?”
She pushed away from her document after saving it, and then unlocked her door. She opened it and listened, but hearing nothing, she went out and down the soft-carpeted stairs. She crossed the main hall and poked her head in the enormous kitchen, but the only person there was Carrie, stirring away at a large bubbling pot and singing softly to herself in Spanish. Carrie wasn’t only half-Mexican, but she loved her heritage.
Pulling away, Merry turned and crossed the large main room again to get to a door on the other side, which led to her mother’s studio. She wisely knocked first.
“Come in,” her mother called from inside, through the faint strains of music. Merry cracked open the door and briefly watched as her mother danced to a radio while simultaneously putting the finishing touches on a small concept drawing. She looked up as her daughter opened the door with a creak. “Yes, Merry?”
Merry bit her lip and lifted an eyebrow. “Erm… I just had a question…”
Her mom peered at her over the rim of her glasses. “What?”
“Um… why… did you want me to come home at three o’ clock today?” Her mother gave her a blank look.
“Three o’ clock?”
“Yes, mom. You told me three times today to come home at three o’ clock.” Anger began to simmer inside her. “Why did you want me to stay here instead of going to Sean’s?”
Her mother stared for a second, and then snapped her fingers. “Ah yes, I wanted you to stay here so you wouldn’t be late.”
“It wasn’t at three.”
“No, of course not.” Her mother went around the desk and Merry thought she was coming for the door, but instead she headed for a shelf and picked up a folder of pictures before drifting back to her desk. “Your party is after dinner.” Merry started.
“I’m always here by dinner!” she cried. “I could have gone to Sean’s!”
“No, you couldn’t have,” she said sharply, repositioning the glasses on the bridge of her nose. “He might have tried to throw you his own party, and then you would have been late, because you wouldn’t have been home on time.”
“Mom, I’m always on time!”
“Uh-huh,” she sounded disbelieving. Merry balled her fists.
“Today is my birthday, aren’t I allowed to do whatever I want?”
“No.” Her mother said stoutly. “Now go get ready for the party. There’s a new dress on your bed that I want you to wear… we’re inviting some friends, so I want you to look presentable.”
“’Friends’?” Merry asked, feeling the heat rising to her face. She didn’t bother moving, just putting all her anger into squeezing her clenched fists harder.
“Yes. Some of our friends. The ones your father and I play cards with on Wednesday nights.”
“What?!” Merry cried, pushing the door open wide. “What about my friends?! Why can’t I invite them?”
“Because, Merry, that would involve having… children’s entertainment. Your father and I really don’t-”
“So what are we going to have, adult entertainment?”
Her mother shot her a glare that would have usually made her take back her words, but in this case she stood her ground, glowering.
“Merry, go put on the dress,” she ordered sternly. “The Yin’s are bringing their daughter, and the Brown’s are bringing Billy. You’ll have plenty of people to play with.” Merry closed her eyes, counted to ten, and then opened them again, trying to contain her anger.
“Billy is five years old,” she reminded her mother. “And Lily is two years younger than me. Why can’t I invite my friends from school?”
“That would be Sean, and he can’t come.”
“I have more than one friend,” she snapped, her anger bubbling to the surface. “I don’t want to have the lamest party in the history of existence.”
“Imagine if you lived in Africa,” her mother replied. “Starving, with your family murdered brutally by a rival tribe. Then you would have no party. Think about that.”
Merry rolled her eyes. “But I don’t live in Africa. And my family hasn’t been brutally murdered… but right now I wouldn’t mind that.”
With that, she slammed the door and whirled, stalking off for the stairs, her anger trailing behind her. She stormed up the stairs, stomping, and passed Tristan on the way.
“Leave me alone,” she growled, and he shut up. She thumped up the remaining stairs, across the hall, and then slammed her door loud enough for her mother to hear. Luckily, her father wasn’t home yet to reprimand her. She locked it and then hit the doorknob with her fist before she turned, leaped, and landed face-first on her bed. “What an idiotic day.”
The laptop winked and blinked in the corner as the screensaver blinked on, bouncing around the screen and beckoning her. She watched it for a moment, her vision half-blocked by a horse-shaped pillow, and let out a long, long breath.
“I don’t want to write,” she moaned, closing her eyes. “I don’t want to be here right now… I wish I was at Sean’s house…”
“Another In-Between?! Really?!” Cheera kicked the cloaked man hard in the stomach and sent him sprawling a second time.
“Stop doing that!” he shouted, holding his gut. “It hurts, lady! You already beat me up today, twice!”
“I’m sick of waiting!” the woman roared. She turned and conked Lore on the head with the blunt end of her spear. He recoiled, surprised. “And you! Running off in the middle of an In-Between and then acting all cocky when the author came back!”
“What?” he asked, spreading his hands. “It was fun, what was I supposed to do?”
“Sit here and be bored like the rest of us!” She kicked for him but he dodged. “Don’t ever do that again!”
“What, this?” With a huge grin, Lore turned and bounded off for the forest’s edge again, this time his bow in hand. “I’m gonna get me a Screecher!”
“What?!” Cheera and the cloaked man shouted in unison. Immediately, the female elf was on his tail, racing after him with her spear at her side. “You idiot, get back here before you kill yourself!”
“I can’t die!” he shouted back. “There’s no author to say so!”
“Idiot!” Cheera roared.
The man in the cloak, feeling thoroughly beaten, debated following or staying, and then glanced around before finally plopping down in the sand and lying flat on his back.
“I need a nap,” he said.
It took Merry five, long minutes to decide whether or not she wanted to write again. She simply lay on her bed, eyes closed, and pretended to sleep while her brain debated back and forth about whether or not she really wanted to go back to the fight scene. Finally, after a while of pretending she didn’t want to, she pulled herself up and dragged her feet over to the computer.
Plopping down, she wiggled the mouse and brought up the screen. The document was still up, except something looked a little different. She peered at the last sentence.
The clearing in the camp was empty except for the cloaked man, who lay sprawled on the ground, mumbling how he needed a nap.
Merry jumped and stared. A moment later, she glared at the door, the anger building up inside her again. Throwing her office chair aside, she stalked for the door, unlocked it, and flung it open. She was surprised to find Tristan there, one hand raised as if he was about to knock.
“What?” she asked harshly, and then wishing she hadn’t.
“Er…” he took a step back. “I wanted to talk to you…”
“Not right now,” she said exasperatedly, brushing past him and stalking farther down the hall. “I have to go ask Mark something...”
“…oh. Ok then.” Tristan waited outside her door for her return, knowing better than to walk into her room uninvited. She walked stiffly down the hall a few doors and came to a green one plastered in space-themed stickers. She knocked loudly.
“Mark!” she shouted. She could hear dorky kid’s music playing inside, and there was no reply. “Mark!” she knocked again. Someone in the room moved, and then approached the door. It cracked open.
“Have you been in my room?”
“No,” he said, sounding disgusted. Merry stared him down through the thin crack in the door.
“Were you messing with my computer?”
“No, idiot,” he retorted, sounding annoyed. “You’re, like, territorial about your room. It’s freaky. Now go away.”
She stuck her foot in the door as he tried to close it and glared at him. “Someone was messing with my story twice today. Was it you?”
“No, for gosh’s sake, Merry.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. She realized he was wearing his cowboy outfit, and made a face. She pulled her foot out of the door and let him close it before turning around and letting out a breath. Tristan waved from the other end of the hallway, and she shrugged before stalking back to him.
“Well,” her brother said slowly, sounding speculative. “Has your domain been infiltrated?”
“Possibly,” she replied, furrowing her brow. She leaned on her doorframe. “Maybe I’m going nuts, but somebody was messing with my document. They kept re-writing the last sentence wherever I left off. It’s like… they were trying to get on my nerves. Or trying to change the plot. But that wouldn’t make sense.”
“Uh-huh,” Tristan replied, not really paying attention. Merry lifted her eyebrow at him.
“…anyway. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“You didn’t go to Sean’s today,” he pointed out, shrugging. “You never change your habits. You’re like a creepy old hermit.”
“Mom was being a jerk,” Merry replied, letting out a sigh. “She didn’t want me to be late for dinner so she cut out Sean from my whole afternoon.”
“Mm-hmm, that’s mom,” Tristan said. He stretched, cracking his knuckles. “Anyway, just checking. I’m going to go try to persuade mom to let you invite friends. I want to see John before he goes to college anyway.”
“Good idea, and thanks.” They nodded, then parted ways, Merry heading back into her room and Tristan disappearing down the stairs. Upon plopping into her chair again, she quickly erased the last sentence and stared at the half-blank page. She got a sly idea.
She quickly typed a sentence.
Lore, Cheera, and the cloaked man were tied up by their wrists to the pole. No one was around to help them, and their weapons were gone.
“I’m going to take a shower,” she said to no one, and then pushed away, heading for her door. She locked it securely, and then locked both the windows, just in case. After surveying the room satisfactorily, she turned and went to take a shower.
“Hey!” Lore shouted, tugging at the rope, his arms pinned behind him. “What’s all this?!”
Cheera let out a strangled noise that sounded like a hyena with mad cow disease. “This is what happens when certain people go running off into the woods during an In-Between to look for Screechers!”
Lore bumped her roughly with his shoulder. “Hey, it’s not my fault! I’m not the one who tied us to the pole!”
“Yeah but if we stayed where we were supposed to be when the author left, she might have let us have a break!”
“You’re saying I could have prevented this, eh!?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed angrily, kicking the pole. The man in the cloak shied away.
“You seem to kick quite well,” he muttered, scooting as far as he could from Cheera’s kick range.
“You’re totally and completely bubble-headed,” she informed Lore stoutly, shaking her head firmly. He rolled his eyes and scooted over the cloaked man.
“What do you think?”
“You don’t care what I think.”
He scooted back over to Cheera. She glared at him.
“I expect you to get us out of here, you know.”
“Why me? You’re the trained warrior with all the resourceful brains.”
“Obviously I’m the only one with any brains,” she huffed. She then glanced up, down, and around, searching for anything that could help them escape. Finally, she came to a conclusion. “Alright, I have a plan.”
“What?” her observers asked hopefully.
“…that Lore should come up with a plan.”
“Oh.” The cloaked man looked disappointed. Lore rolled his eyes again.
“Well I’d start with the basics,” he said matter-of-factly, to Cheera.
“Like how strong are these ropes in the first place?”
They all automatically started tugging at the ropes that bound them to the pole, struggling and grunting, but no one made any progress.
“Well, they’re tougher than they feel,” Cheera panted as the cloaked man made a despairing sound. “Hey, cloaked man, do you have any ideas?”
He sighed, trying to toss his long hair out of his face. “I have a name, you know.”
“Oh,” said Lore. “I’d forgotten you didn’t tell me.”
“Ahem,” interrupted Cheera.
“Ah, right,” replied Advix. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t have any plans. Although I’m supposed to have some sort of secret superpower stored away inside me, but I don’t know what it is yet, so I can’t use it.”
“Pssh,” Cheera hissed. She kicked the ground, sending dust into the air. Advix scooted away again, just in case.
“Why don’t you just find out?” Lore asked casually, looking at the sky.
“I don’t know how.”
“It’s easy,” the elf replied, shifting to look at him more clearly. “Just say to yourself ‘I’m going to figure out what this power is all about’, and then do it.”
“Find out what the power is all about.”
“I’m… not quite sure what you mean.”
Lore let out a half-frustrated breath, as if he was trying to explain something to a child. “It’s not that hard to figure out. You don’t have to stay adhered to what the author says, you know.”
“Yeah, but it can get you tied to a pole with two idiots,” Cheera muttered under her breath, glaring at a distant tent for no reason. Lore ignored her.
“Just think about you, and what the author says you are, and then don’t be like that,” he told Advix, as if he were an expert on the subject. “That’s what I did in the woods. It’s really quite fun.”
“Fun isn’t the term I’d be looking for,” Advix replied, tugging at the rope again. “I’m tied to a pole with my two worst enemies. I need to get out.”
“Oh brother,” Cheera exhaled.
“You’re not necessarily our worst enemy,” Lore commented in a reassuring tone. “We could be friends if you were willing to help us get out.”
“And what if he tries to kill us once he’s free, eh?” Cheera kicked Lore’s shin and he yelped, shifting away. “Then what?”
“I told you, it’s hard to die here.”
“You’re not making any sense!” Cheera cried. She tried to kick him again but he was out of range.
“It’s not supposed to make sense,” Lore chided, trying to glare at her over his shoulder. “It’s an In-Between. We can do whatever we want.”
“We cannot do whatever we want,” she growled. Lore leaned backward.
“Alright, alright, we’ll find a more traditional way to break free, sheesh.”
“Does anybody have a blade of some kind?” asked Advix innocently from the other side of the pole.
“No, all our weapons are gone,” Lore sighed, remembering the brief narration he’d heard earlier. “We need to find something else.”
“Are either of you flexible enough to do something clever?”
Cheera promptly leaned as far forward as she could, kicking her shoe off, and then reached up behind her back with her foot. Lore watched out of the very corner of his eye as she felt the knot with her toes.
“Aha!” she shouted, making Advix jump. “It’s a trick knot. I just need to slip this one under that one… and then… pull that…”
Lore waited patiently. He was probably as flexible as Cheera, but he doubted that he had the same inherent, dexterous toes. A few moments of muttering and muted frustration later, Cheera promptly stumbled forward and broke free.
“Ha-ha!” she crowed triumphantly, regaining her balance and standing upright. She surveyed the grounds before turning and crossing her arms at them. “Now the question is, should I let you two go?” They both let out dismayed shouts before she laughed and waved her hand at them. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you.” She then proceeded to untie Advix, letting him quickly leap out of the way, rubbing his wrists, before she walked to where Lore was, facing him sternly. He was grinning like a maniac.
“What’s so funny?”
“You are,” he replied. His brown eyes danced with mischief.
He tried not to chuckle. “You keep yelling at me for doing things the author hasn’t told us to.”
“Look at you,” he chortled, unable to keep his laughter to himself. “You’re doing what I said. Not what the writer said.”
Cheera stopped, her face blank. After she realized what he meant, her expression got slowly darker, the designs on her face glowing brightly. Lore couldn’t contain his smile.
“You idiot,” she muttered under her breath, and then whirled, stalking away and sitting on a log nearby. “Come on, Ad-whatever-your-name-is. Sit down and leave him all tied up.”
The villain gave Lore a somewhat sorrowful look before heading over and delicately perching beside Cheera, eyeing her feet fearfully as she replaced her shoe.
“Now,” she said after she had tied the moccasin-like footgear, settling back and crossing her arms. “We wait.”
Merry returned from the shower feeling refreshed. She eyed the screensaver again suspiciously before she sat down and wiggled the mouse. Up popped the screen.
Lore was still tied up, watching Cheera laugh at some joke or another while Advix pretended to get it and laughed too.
Her eyes grew wide.
“What’s going on…?
But she was called away for dinner, and she turned her computer off to be on the safe side.
It was night, and the door swung open and then shut with a soft click. The light turned on and Merry, wearing the soft pink dress she had been instructed to wear, dragged herself over to her bed, and lay on it quietly, appearing tired.
“That,” she told the goldfish, “was the worst birthday party I have ever had.” She frowned deeply and lay on her side. “I’ve never been humiliated on my own birthday…” she tried to brush at the large stain on her skirt again, but it wouldn’t go away. She let out a long, long sigh. “And mother didn’t have to be so angry at me all evening…” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I just want to disappear…”
She let out a long breath and took off her dress, changing into her pajamas slowly. Afterward she tossed the dress onto the floor and flung herself onto the bed.
Tomorrow was just another day, and it would no doubt be as dull, tedious, and long as today. It took her a moment to remember why her day had been so extraordinarily long, and she realized she hadn’t been to Sean’s house that day. She mumbled meaningless, disheartened words under her breath before rolling onto her side and eyeing the light switch.
What a disgrace it was to make mother angry during the party. Her mother rarely lost her temper in front of company, but this time it seemed it had been building up for a while. She had taken Merry aside and told her to look more cheerful when she walked in with a sour face, and later she fairly exploded when Merry spilled the wine on her dress. It hadn’t even been Merry’s fault. It was somebody else’s wine she accidentally tipped.
Then her father had reprimanded her as well, in front of all the adults. Everyone sang the birthday song half-heartedly, and even the cake was disappointing – it looked impressive, but tasted fake.
The only good thing about the evening had been Tristan’s present. It was a magnificent, ring-bound sketchbook and a pack of excellent quality drawing pencils. She realized she had forgotten it downstairs and punched her pillow, more out of melancholy than frustration.
“I hate today,” she muttered. With that, she reached to the second light switch and flicked it off. The room plunged into darkness, save the dull light of the moon outside. Feeling alone, she rolled over and tried to sleep.
“I wish you guys were real,” she whispered sadly to her laptop, its outline barely visible on the desk. She closed her eyes and imagined them in great detail, to try and calm herself. Especially Lore.
His soft, black hair, and intense eyes. The way he carried himself when he walked – shoulders straight, with his bow slung between them on the quiver full of arrows. His profile, his smile. Everything.
Lore was trying to sleep, too. Cheera and Advix had gone to sleep without him, and he eventually took a chance on his toes. Luckily, he managed to untie himself before rubbing his wrists and slowly walking toward where the other two had settled down. He lay down a few feet away from Cheera, on his back, and stared up through the pitch blackness at the wide streak of stars that peppered the sky.
There were so many stars. But he was too upset to care.
“Why do I feel so… sad?” he thought, his eyes flicking from constellation to constellation. He tried to pick out his favorites – the goddess queen Alias and the warrior-hunter Javan – but they served no comfort to him. He rolled over. Then rolled over again. Then again. Finally, he sat up.
“Something feels wrong,” he whispered to himself. Frowning, he looked back up at the sky, but still he found no solace there. “What is it?”
He sat there for a long time trying to figure it out. It wasn’t a feeling he necessarily felt himself. It was almost as if he was picking it up from someone. But he didn’t have the ability to do that, and if he did, he didn’t know where he got it from. He finally reached over and poked Cheera.
“Mm?” she moaned, stirring.
“Cheera,” he whispered.
“Mmm… what?” she murmured back, turning her head at him, blinking blearily.
“Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m feeling fine… why do you ask?”
“Just… thought you might be feeling sad, you know…”
She let out a strange, tired, groaning noise. “I’m fine. You’re being silly. Go back to sleep.” She rolled over and was promptly out like a candle flame. Lore slanted his mouth and thought. He scooted around Cheera and over to Advix. The villain was curled up under his cloak, his armor piled nearby. Lore poked him.
“Gak!” the man cried, jolting upright and startling Lore. “What?! Where?!” The elf shuffled away quickly, out of range of Adix’s swinging arms. “Who is that?!”
“It’s me, idiot,” Lore hissed angrily. “Stop trying to kill me. I want to ask you a question.”
The swinging stopped and Advix paused, realizing he was alright.
“Oh… what did you want to ask me? And why now?”
Lore shrugged. “Just wanted to know if you’re feeling sad.”
The villain seemed to think about it for a moment, debating, and then finally let out a huff. “No. I am not sad. I am tired, cold, stiff, hungry, and annoyed. The last thing I am is sad. Now if you would please do the me the honor of letting me sleep again…?”
“Fine.” Lore rolled his eyes and scooted away. He stared back at the sky as Advix settled down again and wondered why he felt so frustrated, so humiliated… but only as if they were echoes of someone else’s emotion. It was confusing, and it hurt to some degree, although he was also curious and determined to get rid of the feeling.
It took another five minutes for him to get a new idea. No one else was around, and the two he was with were not sad in the least, and there was only one other person who he could think of that might be in pain.
“Merry…?” he asked, looking up at the sky. There was a long moment of silence as the stars winked and blinked at him cheerily from the sky. “Hmm…”
He closed his eyes and focused. She was nearby. It felt so strange, as if he was being called. In fact, as the feeling got stronger, he was sure he was being called. She was thinking about him, wanting him there.
Lore opened his eyes, realizing he was sitting on something soft. He paused. It was some sort of chair with wheels. He rolled it forward a bit, then back a bit, and then stopped, trying to figure out where he was. He knew he was somewhere near Merry. He could feel her shame over there, by the bed.
“This is weird,” he said softly to himself, looking around the small room curiously. His night vision quickly adjusted to his surroundings and he surveyed first the desk, then the chair, then the bed. He could see Merry’s form under the blankets, and wondered how he knew it was her.
But that didn’t matter. He stood up and carefully tiptoed around the bed to the door. He tried the knob but it was locked and, unknowing as how to open it, he tiptoed back to the chair. The windows looked promising, but he didn’t know where he would go.
He eyed Merry again. Her breathing was slow and steady, meaning she was asleep.
“Maybe I should wake her up…” he thought. He was still confused. Maybe his writer had the answer. Making up his mind, he stole his way over to the bed and, crouching by it, slowly reached out and touched her shoulder.
“Merry,” he whispered. “Wake up.”
“Mmph,” she said grumpily, and he leaned backward. Then he poked her.
“Get out of my room, you moron,” she mumbled sleepily. “You’re sleepwalking again.”
“Erm…” Lore shook his head. “No, wake up, it’s me.”
“I know, Tristan, go away.” She rolled over so her back was to him. Lore stared for a moment, and then poked her again.
“It’s me, Lore.”
Merry waved her hand at him and grumbled.
“Tristan, stop. You don’t even know who Lore is. Go back to your room… how did you even open the door…?”
“You called me here.” The voice didn’t sound quite like her brother, she suddenly realized. She paused.
“You called me here, I think,” the voice replied. It was deeper than Tristan’s, but not as deep as her father’s. And he was acting very strange. Her eyes snapped open and she rolled over, coming suddenly face-to-face with someone unfamiliar. There was a moment of silence.
Merry screamed, jerking away and fumbling blindly for the light switch. Her scream startled Lore and he jumped away, still on all fours, scooting toward the chair again almost fearfully. Outside, a door opened, just as Merry managed to flick on the light. Lore blinked rapidly and shaded his eyes as Merry, terrified, clutched her blankets and whirled to face him.
“Who are-?!” she stopped herself short, catching sight of his pointed ears. She gasped loudly and Lore, now frightened, backed up until he came into contact with the chair, rolling it backward. The doorknob suddenly rattled and someone pounded on the door.
“Merry! Are you alright?” her father boomed, and Lore nearly jumped out of his skin. He tried to back up under the desk, confused and intimidated. Merry stammered.
“Unlock the door! Let me in!” More pounding.
“N-no dad, it’s ok!” she shouted suddenly, her voice wavering. “The… um… um… I had a bad dream, that’s all!” She was unable to tear her eyes away from Lore as he cowered away, watching the door.
“Are you sure?”
She paused. Lore flicked his eyes to her. At least she thought it was Lore. Almost.
“Yeah. I’m fine… go on, let me sleep.”
“Hmm…. Alright.” She heard him murmuring to her mother and then they both moved away, turning off the hall light as they went. She hadn’t even noticed it turn on.
Then there was a long moment of silence as she and the elf stared each other in the eye. Both of them looked scared.
“Um…” Merry slowly shifted under her blankets, and then slipped out of bed, pulling the blanket with her. She stepped down on the opposite side of the bed and stared, wrapping the quilt around her shoulders. “You… you have… your ears…”
Lore inadvertently touched his ears, but he stayed where he was by the chair, not knowing what to do. He flicked his eyes to the door.
“Is there anybody out there?" he asked in a hushed voice. Merry couldn't tear her eyes away from his ears, or his clothes, or the way he was cowering beneath her desk as if something was going to kill him. She realized her own heart was pounding, and tried to calm herself. As soon as she did, Lore seemed to relax a little.
“I... no...” she replied, tightening the blanket. “That was my dad... he's gone now...” she trailed off as their eyes met again. His eyes were so familiar, so calming, so beautiful. At first, she didn't know what else to say, but then Lore took over.
“Um...” he glanced around the room. “So this is your world? Where you tell us what to do?”
Merry stammered, her mouth opening and closing. “I... yeah, I guess so... but how are you here? You can't get here. There's no possible way...”
“Well, apparently there is,” the elf contradicted, pulling himself up and standing, one hand on the desk. “I mean, I'm here, aren't I?”
“I guess so...” Merry brushed her hair back, staring at him from the bottom of his soft boots to the top of his black, messy hair. The light was soft, and he almost seemed to glow. Merry wondered if she was having a dream.
“So,” Lore said suddenly, putting his hands in his pockets and relaxing. “Your hideaway… it’s not bad.” He took a step toward the nearest wall and touched a poster of a wizard casting a spell over a cliff toward a large city.
“It’s just my room,” Merry replied, watching him. She pulled her feet up and crawled onto the bed again, sitting cross-legged and wondering why she wasn’t having a mental breakdown. She watched Lore pick up a pencil sharpener, handle it curiously, and then peer in it closely. She giggled.
“I just had a thought,” she said as he put the pencil sharpener aside and turned before stopping abruptly, stopped by the floor lamp.
“What thought?” as he spun the lampshade.
“You’ve never been here before,” she said simply. She still wasn’t sure whether or not she was dreaming, but thought she would just go with the flow until she figured it out. “Everything here must be new to you.”
“Yeah…” he replied slowly, lifting his eyebrow at the window shades. He stared at the lava lamp in the corner and his eyes grew wide. “Ooh…” Merry giggled again as he went to touch it, and then pulled back at the hot feel, resigning to simply watching the wax bubbles float up and down.
“You’re just like I imagined you,” she commented, hugging her knees as he got close to the glass and followed the bubbles up and down. “It’s weird.” Lore tapped the glass again and pulled away. “You’re so… cute.”
“Yes, you. Cute.: Merry watched as his gaze shifted back to the poster, fawning over the details. “It's just so weird. And hard to absorb.”
“You are!” she replied, finally conjuring up the bravery to put her feet over the side of the bed on which Lore stood. “You're not really... real. Yet here you are.”
“Which makes me real,” he replied with a grin, winking at her. “Come over here and pinch me if you really want to.” Merry stayed where she was. “Oh come on, you know me better than I do. I don't bite. At least, I'm sure I don't.” He beckoned. “Come on, pinch me. Or poke me, if that suits you.”
Merry giggled again. “I... I don't know, I'm just a little shy... you know... don't you feel the same way? Isn't this new for you?”
“Um...” he glanced around the room, and his eyes fell on Merry's dresser, upon which sat an army of little plastic superhero figurines. “Yes. Yes it is.” She smiled.
“So we're both feeling the same bewilderment.”
Merry stood up bravely and, gathering up enough courage to do so, walked toward him with her hand outstretched. She reached him and poked his arm lightly. They both stared at each other for a moment, and then Lore grinned.
Merry poked him again, just in case, and then nodded. “I see... I think... yeah...” her words became drawn-out. “I can't believe this...”
She looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“You're a writer. I thought you could believe in everything.”
“Hmm..." Merry seemed to think about it for a few seconds. “Well. I do think I saw Santa Clause over our house once. But that was in January, so I can't be sure. I think I believe in him...”
“So therefore, you should believe in me.”
“I guess so.”
“Well of course I want to. But... I've never actually been faced with something as... bizarre as this before.” She backed up and sat down on the bed again, sighing. “Nobody will ever believe me.” Lore leaned on the wall, crossing his arms. “Does anybody have to?” he asked, shrugging. “I don't know about you, but I would prefer to stay away from any adults for now...” he looked slightly nervous. “I don't know why... that pounding on the door scared me...”
“It scared me too.” She eyed Lore again, from top to bottom. “What did you say when you first came in, again? Something about… me calling you…?”
“Oh yes,” Lore snapped his fingers. “I was wondering about that. Something you did pulled me here, which is sort of why I am here in the first place. I don’t usually stalk around unfamiliar bedrooms at night. It gives me the creeps.”
Merry laughed, and then paused. “So why did I call you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, I didn’t do the calling. What was the last thing you thought before I showed up and mistakenly… frightened us.”
Merry scratched her head in thought. “I was mad about my birthday going all wrong,” she muttered. “Then I started thinking about my book so I wouldn’t be so upset.”
Lore snapped his fingers again and pointed at her. “That would do it, I suppose.”
“You feeling upset and wanting me nearby to comfort you.”
“How does that make any sense?” Merry threw her arms up into the air. “A few minutes ago you weren’t real!”
Lore shrugged dramatically. “Well, now I am. Here, try thinking about Cheera really hard. See if you can do the same thing you did with me.”
Merry looked dubious. “I don’t know…”
“She’d love it here…I think.”
“Are you sure?”
“No,” he admitted, grinning sheepishly. “But the point is for you to learn how to do this thing you did again. It’ll only give yourself more proof, after all.”
Merry sighed. “I guess so… but where are you all going to go when I have to go back to sleep?”
Lore looked around the room, then out the window, and then shrugged. “I don’t know. Somewhere… back in the book, maybe?”
Merry slanted her mouth, but settled down anyway. “Ok. Here goes, then.”
She shut her eyes and began to focus. Cheera was tall, but not as tall as Lore. She was thin, and toned, and had mid-back length golden hair tied into two braids. Her eyes were light blue, like a slightly cloudy day. Her clothes were light, and mainly for hunting in the woods or jungle. She carried a spear.
“Oh, hello,” Merry heard Lore say, and her eyes popped open. Cheera was standing by the bed, blinking and looking confused.
“…what,” she said tonelessly.
“Cheera, hi,” Lore poked his face into her line of vision. She looked at him. “We’re in Merr-, well, we’re in the writer’s world.” He moved aside so she could see Merry again. “That’s our writer.”
The female elf stared, and Merry squirmed uncomfortably, trying to smile.
“Hi,” she said, waving a little. Cheera blinked again, and then waved back as if she didn’t exactly understand why she was waving. Her eyes drifted to Lore.
“It’s ok, you’re not dreaming,” Lore reassured her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Merry summoned us, or something of the like, and so here we are.”
“Um…” Cheera looked at Merry again. Then her eyebrows drew together. “So you… brought us into your world?”
“After waking us up?”
“I was sleeping pretty well.”
“Sorry about that,” Merry was studying Cheera all over, her eyes glistening. “So you’re real too…”
“Of course I’m real, girl,” the elf snorted. She elbowed Lore. “Seems like she can’t believe we’re real. How childish.”
Lore chuckled and glanced at Merry. “She’s lapsing back into her usual self. Be prepared for temper and-ow!”
“Don’t insult me!” Cheera cried, having kicked Lore in the knee. He hopped away to a safe distance.
“I’ll remember that next time I’m standing in your proximity,” he said, wincing.
“See that you do.” Cheera spun on Merry again, arms crossed. “Ok, genius girl. You brought us here, now what are you going to do with us?”
“Well… you see, it’s… um…”
“Yeah.” Cheera whirled on Lore, arms still crossed. “You had a hand in this, didn’t you?”
“Well I was here first, what do you think?”
Cheera narrowed her eyes at him, but just as she was about to say something else, Merry put her hand up.
“Should I try it with Advix, too?”
“No,” Cheera replied strongly. “He’s a wimp.”
“And quite annoying,” Lore pointed out. Merry made a face.
“He’s supposed to be epic.”
“He is, when we’re not doing an In-Between,” Lore said.
“When you’re not writing,” Cheera finished.
“Ahh…” the 15-year old lapsed into momentary thought. “I have two characters in my room and nobody else knows. But I can still summon them… Holy cow… this must be every writer’s dream…” she paused, and then snapped her fingers, inadvertently catching the attention of the two bantering elves. “I should try it with Eclipse. I haven’t written anything with her yet.”
Lore reached forward and poked her on the forehead, snapping her out of it.
“You zoned out. You went into that weird, dark corner where writers no doubt go when they’re thinking.” Merry grinned.
“Yes, I did,” she confirmed. “But for good reason. Here stand back.” She pushed Lore away and motioned him and Cheera toward the wall. Not knowing what else to do, they followed her commands and stood to the side. Merry closed her eyes again and began to focus very hard.
She was a short woman – a human – a little shorter than Cheera. She was thick-boned but still very fit, and slightly more muscular. Her long, shining black hair was pulled up into a messy bun on the back of her head, and her dark eyes matched the calmness of a stormless ocean. Two sword sheaths hung at her sides, a rare sight. She was smiling, like she almost always was…
“What the-?” Merry’s eyes flew open as the sound of a sword being unsheathed reached her ears. Before her stood a woman who matched the description she’d just thought exactly, except at the moment she looked frightened, and in her hands were two swords –one pointed at Lore and Cheera, the other pointed at Merry. She was panting, and her eyes quickly hardened. They fell on Lore. “Where am I?”
“In a room,” he replied jovially. “I’m Lore, and these are Cheera and Merry. He motioned at the two, but the woman did not seem any less threatened. Her eyes went to Merry.
“You,” she said stiffly, and Merry suddenly realized she was being pointed at with a blade. She scooted backward. “Why did you call me here? Who are you?”
“I’m Merry,” she replied meekly.
“I know your name, but who are you? And why did you call me here?”
“I… erm… wanted to see if I could,” Merry replied with a shamefaced expression. “I haven’t written anything with you yet, I wasn’t sure if I could imagine you well enough.”
Eclipse’s eyebrows tilted in an almost sad way, confusion clouding her eyes. “What?”
Lore dared to move out of the way of her sword point, catching her attention, and relaxed himself. “You don’t need to worry,” he said reassuringly. “We’re all pretty new at this.”
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Eclipse shot back, her voice sharp. Lore didn’t flinch.
“Well that’s easily remedied,” the elf replied, trying to stay relaxed for the newcomer’s sake. Merry was impressed that he remembered to do so. “I’m just an elf warrior, and not a very good one at that. My friend Cheera is an extremely skilled fighting member of the royalty, and Merry here invented all of us.”
Eclipse deadpanned at him. “Huh?”
Cheera smacked Lore over the head and then shoved him, sending him stumbling into Merry’s bed.
“Don’t listen to him,” the elf woman snorted. “He’s confusing. What really happened was that this girl here,” she pointed at Merry, “is a skilled storyteller who can summon her characters to life. That’s why we’re here.”
Eclipse blinked, slowly lowering her swords. “So…we’re characters?”
“Oh.” She sheathed her swords calmly and then let out a breath, looking around, much more satisfied. “Ok then.” She cracked a jolly smile at Cheera and shook her hand with a surprisingly strong grip. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Cheera pulled away quickly, and Eclipse went for Lore, her smile widening. She extended her hand into his face as he sat up.
“Hi. I’m Eclipse.”
“Oh. Hello.” Lore leaned back again and shook her hand, but unfortunately he didn’t let go in time as she spun to face Merry again. He went flying, stumbling into Merry’s mountain of stuffed animals. Everyone giggled.
“So…” Merry was still cross-legged on the bed as she stared at everyone. They began milling around her room, picking up random objects and marveling at them, or appearing frightened of them. Lore pulled himself from the stuffed animal collection and stood, brushing himself off. Then he lowered himself next to Merry and rested his elbows on his knees, watching the other two marvel over the goldfish.
“So,” Lore mimicked, glancing at her. “Here we are. What are you going to do with us?”
Merry, who was staring straight ahead in bemusement as Cheera spun her hanging mobile, shrugged.
“What do you mean, you saw them?” Sean’s voice was entirely disbelieving, his expression skeptical. Merry spread her hands, keeping her voice at a whisper.
“I don’t know, it all happened so fast,” she hissed. “But I was alone one minute, and the next, there they were!”
Sean gave her a look, one eyebrow raised. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
“They said I wasn’t!”
Her friend nodded, readjusting his reading glasses. “Ok. I’m just saying it now – you were dreaming, Merry. There’s no way that could have happened, so therefore you are confused.”
“But it was so real!” she protested, elbowing him. “They were exactly how I wrote them, and then I tested in on Eclipse, and she appeared too!”
Sean shook his head. “Merry, come on. I’m jealous of your amazingly detailed dream, and its odd plot, but that’s really impossible. Logically so. Think about it.”
“I did think about it! I told Lore he wasn’t real, but then I poked him!”
The kid in front of them turned his head slowly and stared. Merry glared at him until he turned his head slowly back around. She lowered her voice again.
“He told me that I would really have to believe to do it again.”
Sean removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Merry, seriously, let’s just focus on future writing today. The next challenge is in a month. We only have that long to plan, so we’d better get cracking.”
Merry’s face fell, but she had known this would happen anyway. Sighing, she turned away and opened up her backpack, pulling out her notebook and scribbling down what she had learned about Eclipse last night. If she really had.
“Maybe Sean’s right,” she thought offhandedly. “Now that I’m awake it does seem a little silly…”
Her pencil tip drifted as her mind did the same, and when she looked down she had sketched out a rough picture of Lore smiling. She paused, studying it, wondering why she had randomly drawn him. He looked more real than usual, as if she really knew what to draw this time.
“Hmm…” she hummed to herself thoughtfully. “He looks so real…”
Then the bus rattled to a stop in front of the school. Everyone began to leave.
The day dragged on for what seemed like years. Merry was distracted all day, and all her teachers caught her guilty of staring out the window instead of studying. Sean, who sat next to her for most of their classes, was continually elbowing her in the side, making faces. She shrugged and went on staring as soon as everyone looked away.
The whole day lay ahead of her yet, and she wanted nothing more than to get home, lock her door, and try again, but today she had the obligation to go to Sean’s house. He was excited she could come after yesterday’s disappointment, so she couldn’t just leave him alone two days in a row.
Her thoughts seemed to be running rampant in her head. She couldn’t stop the image of her character returning continually. Eclipse, Cheera, Lore, all waiting in her room boredly, breaking things that didn’t belong to them, more than likely. She giggled into her hand. If it was real – which she was sure now that it wasn’t – that was most certainly what they would be doing.
She imagined Lore approaching her lava lamp again. Perhaps he would have a conversation with it. That would be amusing. Cheera would find it stupid and more than likely kick Lore in the backside, or the shin.
And Eclipse, the newbie who seemed stronger than Merry thought she would. She would watch the other two and laugh before clapping Cheera or Lore on the back and send them staggering. Eclipse did seem much more muscular.
“Merry!” the teacher’s stick smashed down on her desk with a loud snap, and Merry jerked her head up, eyes wide.
The class tittered as the teacher glared at her over the top of his glasses, his eyes narrowed.
“This is the second time I’ve had to come over to your desk and try to catch your attention, young lady.” He slapped a folded note down before her. “Take this to the principal’s office.”
“Eh?” Merry asked, alarmed. “But…I was just thinking…”
“I think you’re mistaking ‘thinking’ for ‘daydreaming’,” the teacher said, on the verge of a chuckle, and the class tittered again. “Now go.” He pointed at the door.
Grumbling, she stood up and stalked for the door, converse shoes making almost no sound. She exited the room angrily and went for the principal’s office. She hated the principal, and she was pretty sure he hated her, although she could never prove it. Since she began school here at eight years old, she had only been sent home with a note twice, and she had a sneaking suspicion she would be sent off with another one this afternoon. She grumbled and, switching to stomping, entered the principal’s office wishing she could just disappear.
Meanwhile, Lore was staring the lava lamp in the face and holding a conversation with it.
“You’re looking rather nice today,” he said, watching the wax blobs go up and down endlessly. “In fact, I might say that you look stunning.”
“Stop being a creepy idiot,” Cheera said from the window, turning and kicking Lore in the shin. He hopped away with a yowl. “Even I can tell the difference between animate and inanimate objects.”
Eclipse laughed. “You two are so funny. It’s hard to believe this isn’t your world. You seem so comfortable in it.”
Cheera deadpanned at her as she held up a superhero figurine, and Lore slowly drifted back to the lava lamp. The dark-headed swordswoman shrugged.
“Well, for characters with books and worlds that are already established, you don’t seem too… estranged by this one.”
“It’s easy to fit into,” Lore claimed, following the lava lamp’s strange tail to where it plugged into the wall. He tilted his head at it. “You know what I mean… everything looks so simple.” He gave the tail a tug and there was a bright flash as Lore jumped back, surprised, and the lava lamp went dead. The other two stared. “Heh… I did say it looks simple, didn’t I?”
Cheera waved her hand at him and turned back to Eclipse. “He used to be calmer,” she explained. “Then he figured out how to go around the writer’s rules.”
Eclipse blinked. “Writers have rules?”
“But not anymore, eh?”
“Not for us.”
Eclipse seemed to think this was a good thing. She smiled and clapped Cheera heartily on the back, sending her stumbling. “Well, good. I think you two and I are going to have a lot of fun in the near future.”
Cheera righted herself, brushing herself off, and then squared her shoulders. “Mm-hm. Whatever you say. For now, you have to try and help me keep Lore from being an even bigger idiot than he already is.”
Eclipse peered around Cheera. “Where is Lore?”
Without turning around, the elf woman narrowed her eyes slowly, fists clenching. “I guess we’re a little too late about the idiot part.”
“Never mind that,” Eclipse proclaimed, suddenly unsheathing one of her swords and slinging it over her shoulders. Cheera looked slightly surprised. “We can just go find the sucker!”
“Er…” Cheera eyed the blade. “With… a sword?” She mused on the idea, rubbing her chin. “It might just work. But… which way did he go?”
“Waaaaa-hooo!” they heard from outside the window, up on the roof.
“Aha,” the two women said in unison, and then headed for the window.
Lore decided the roof directly above Merry’s window was a very fun and interesting place to be. From there he could see the whole world, it seemed. Below him was an exquisite garden the size of a small house itself, and then beyond there was a huge, sprawling city. He danced around on it for a while, testing its wait, and then did a nice hand spring before landing on his hands and feet nearby. He perched on a nice, level section, inhaling the scent of the garden deeply, and closing his eyes as a soft breeze passed by, giving the moment a perfect touch of serenity and peace.
“Ahh…” he said lowering himself and sitting on a nice outcrop of tiled roof. From behind closed eyes, everything seemed perfect. Smiling, he lifted his head and smelled the thick scent of strange flowers, wondering if he should venture down himself, later. Other smells from nearby houses drifted up to him as well, but he didn’t know what they were or what they meant. Everything here was so new, so fresh.
He opened his eyes slowly and looked out over the sunny, hot city. Everything about it seemed peaceful. Tranquil. Calm.
He looked down, for some reason, just in time to see Eclipse and Cheera poke their heads out and look up at him. Cheera’s expression went from determined to angry.
“Aha!” she shouted, pointing at him. “You get back down here this minute!”
“Who, me?” he swung his feet at them and grinning.
“No, the guy behind you,” Eclipse said sharply, pointing over his shoulder. Lore’s eyebrows went up and he whirled around to see, giving Eclipse the opportunity to reach up, grab his foot, and give it a hefty tug. He gave a cry of distress before he teetered, fell, and caught himself on the window ledge.
“Shew.” He let out a relieved breath. Then the other two took one of his arms each and heaved him up into the window. As soon as he was on both feet and the window was closed, Cheera kicked him in the side.
“Ack!” he cried, staggering away. “Why, why do you have to have such sharp feet?”
“You doofus!” Cheera shouted, throwing her hands into the air. “You don’t know what’s out there. Heck, you don’t even know what’s in this room! Why would you go venturing off on some heroic journey in a world we know nothing about?” her expression softened and she pulled her eyebrows together. “One of these days, you’re going to do something that kills you.”
Lore made a solemn face and, placing his hand over his heart, said, “I swear that if I do something that kills me, I will make sure it kills me thoroughly.”
This earned him another sturdy kick in the side. He leaped away, chuckling, as Cheera seethed and Eclipse plopped down on the bed, giggling.
“I told you guys you’re funny,” she said.
“Ok, new plan.” Cheera exhaled loudly as she sat heavily beside Eclipse. “Try to keep the elf nut from killing himself.” She eyed Lore as he stood on his hands, grinning widely. “Thoroughly or otherwise.”
“I’m just exploring the possibilities of this place,” he replied casually, turning so he could see himself in the full-length mirror, still upside down. “I mean, if you can break the rules in our world, why can’t you break them here?”
“You seem to have broken gravity,” Eclipse mentioned, motioning at him. His smile widened and Cheera patted Eclipse on the back.
“He’s just standing on his head.”
“Oh, right. Your head is empty. It’d cave in if you stood on it.”
“Ha-ha, very funny.”
“Thank you. Now come sit down before you break something that doesn’t belong to you.”
Sighing dramatically, Lore flipped upright and then slowly dragged his feet over until he could safely flop down on the bed behind his two friends.
“So what are we supposed to do now? Just wait until Merry gets back?”
“It seems plausible, doesn’t it?” Cheera held up her fist and glared at him. He gulped.
“…I can see where your teacher gets his complaints,” the principal said suddenly, and Merry looked up hurriedly.
“You are not listening, Miss Johnson.” The aging man, arms folded on his desk, did not seem amused as he stared at her over the rim of his thick glasses. “You were, as is the popular saying, staring off into space.”
“Uhh… heh…” Merry squirmed in her chair, smiling apologetically. “Sorry… what where you saying?”
“I was saying that I’m going to have to send you home with a note.”
“Gah,” Merry thought, biting her lip. “What… kind of note?”
“The kind you write on paper.”
She waited in silence for a few moments as the principal stared her down, and she did her best to retain eye contact. After a while of fidgeting and shifting around, she opened her mouth.
“When exactly are-?”
“You may go now,” the principal huffed suddenly, sliding a piece of paper across his desk toward her. She snatched it up and stood quickly.
“Thank you,” she said offhandedly, and then promptly whirled around and exited the room. She made sure she left too quickly for the principal to say anything. However, she was surprised when, she came out of the room, Sean was sitting across the hall, waiting for her. He had his notebook up and was muttering to himself as he scribbled away. He sounded angry, for some reason.
“Sean?” Merry asked as she approached, slipping the note discreetly into her pocket. “Did class end early?” Sean looked up as she approached, and she immediately saw he had a black eye. She stopped in her tracks and let out a squeak. “What happened to you?”
He shrugged. “Some kids were making fun of you after you left,” he said simply, removing his glasses and standing, his accent stronger than usual under duress. “So when I told them to stop they began picking on me instead. One thing led to another, and now here I am. I’m sure you can guess what happened.” He headed for the office and Merry watched him go by, somewhat surprised.
“Oh,” she said slowly, blinking.
“And so now I’m off to see Mr.-Notes-Are-Always-Written-on-Paper-and-Nobody-Knows-That.”
Merry wanted to chuckle, but couldn’t. Instead, she smiled a little and shrugged. “Well, good luck. Just… don’t zone out.”
“Luckily, I don’t plan to.” With a slight smile, he disappeared behind the principal’s heavy door and left Merry alone in the hallway. She stared after him for a minute and then, in a sort of daze, looked away and began shuffling back toward class.
Sean had never done anything like that before, at least not to that extreme. Maybe something was pushing him over the edge lately. Perhaps something at home, or to do with his mother. She shrugged and decided he could explain later. For now, she had to get back to class and see what other nonsense the teacher had cooked up for her.
Yet all she could think about was getting home.
The end of the school day came quickly after the first few classes, luckily, and soon Merry found herself sitting in her old familiar bus seat beside Sean, delving into her pocket-sized first aid kit.
“The school nurse already had a go at me,” Sean explained uncaringly as he drew a technical diagram for a piece of technology in his book. “So there’s no need to crack out your handy-dandy emergency stuff.”
“My handy-dandy emergency stuff is good for emergencies,” Merry said stoutly as she pulled out her mini bottle of rubbing alcohol. She doused her handkerchief in it and went for Sean’s eye.
“Whoa, whoa,” he leaned away, startled. “What are you trying to do, blind me?”
“Stay still,” she said in a motherly voice, trying to put the cloth to his face. He pushed it away with his hand.
“I told you the nurse already had a go at me. You don’t need to do anything, seriously. It’s ok.”
She shook her head. “This is my fault, I’ll deal with it.” Sean laughed.
“Your fault? I’m the one who hit the other guy first.” Merry shook her head.
“You’re crazy,” she said, sighing and shaking her head. She glanced out the window and watched as they neared Sean’s stop. Suddenly, she got an idea. “Hey… do you want to go to my house today, instead?”
Sean looked up. “Eh?”
“It’s Thursday, isn’t it?” she asked, looking at him. “The nurse will be in to look after your mother until after six o’ clock. You can hop off at the bus stop and tell them you’ll be back before then.”
Sean seemed to debate it for a moment, throwing back pros and cons in his head. “Well, I can see what she says,” he shrugged. “I’ll do it quick, if the bus driver will wait for me.
“Yay,” Merry smiled widely and settled back, a little happier. Sean glanced sideways at her.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with the dream you were telling me about, does it?” he asked out of nowhere, and she looked up, eyes wide.
“The dream you were telling me about this morning,” he repeated, shrugging. “The one about your characters coming to life or what. You’ve been zoned out all day thinking about it, so you want to go home to see if they’re actually there, right?” his voice seemed almost accusing, and Merry made a stony face.
“I want to spend time writing with you,” she said in a stern voice. Sean looked away with a sigh.
“Sorry… I just thought you were… you know, still thinking about it.”
“Hm,” Merry shrugged as well. “Well… I was thinking about it a lot today, but you were right. You know… it’s just a dream. I should forget about it.”
“Well I didn’t say that,” Sean defended himself by holding up his hand. “If you forget about it, a good lot of potential story ideas could go down the drain. I say you write it down somewhere and then keep it for anything you might want to write in the future. What do you think?”
Merry half-smiled and pretended to chuckle. “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe.”
The tired bus pulled up to Sean’s house and stopped there, just outside of town. Merry could see his small abode through the trees, and as Sean stood up she wondered why he went to her big school if he came from such a tiny house.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, making his way up the aisle. He muttered something to the bus driver before hopping off the vehicle and dashing up the path to his home. Everyone waited , stretching, until only a few moments later, Sean dashed back out. He clattered up the stairs and plopped down beside Merry again as soon as he was back to his seat.
“She said yes,” he replied with a smile, and Merry smiled too.
“Good,” she said, with a sneaky look. Sean leaned back and stretched, closing his eyes and yawning widely. Taking the opportunity, she pushed him back by the shirt collar and swiftly put the handkerchief to his eye.
“Gak!” he shouted, but she pulled away before he could push her hand out of his face. “You… you… did that on purpose,” he stuttered, defeated.
“Yep,” Merry grinned triumphantly and stowed the handkerchief in the front pocket of her backpack again. “I’ll have Carrie do more for it when we get home, if you like. It’s gotta be sore, right?”
“Yeah, a little,” Sean touched the skin around his eye and winced. “Who knew that tall, muscular, sports people could hit so hard?”
Merry giggled. “You’re so crazy.”
“I knew that.”
Merry knew the rest of the day would be much more pleasant, now.
Hours later, Merry’s room was a wreck. There was popcorn everywhere, blankets scattered about, computer cords laced over the floor, and music playing from the speakers on her little end table. It was otherwise empty, at least until the door swung open and Merry limped in, holding her gut and laughing so hard she thought her lungs would come spiraling out her throat. Sean was close in tow, laughing just as much.
“That… was… hilarious!” Merry shouted, falling face-first onto her bed and pounding the pillow with her fist. Sean shut the door and slid down it with his back, laughing into his hands.
“I shouldn’t be laughing,” he managed to gasp out between hiccups of laughter. “I feel bad for your little brother.”
“I don’t!” Merry exclaimed cheerfully. “He deserved a hot plate dropped in his lap, it’s his fault for not eating his food like a normal person in the first place.”
“True, that,” Sean said, chuckling. He spread out on her floor and picked up her notebook lazily. “Ahh… so, what are we going to do now?”
“I dunno,” Merry replied, lifting her head up. Her eyes drifted to her computer. “What time is it?”
“Then we have plenty of time.”
“Yes we do. Would you like to write?”
“Sure.” He pulled out a small laptop from his backpack and flipped it open, hitting the start button. “Which story are you going to do?”
Merry pulled herself up, opened her mouth to reply, and then stopped. “I… Um…”
Sean looked up after donning his glasses. “What?”
Merry fell into deep thought, furrowing her brow. Most of her wanted to write Lore’s and Cheera’s story, but for some reason she didn’t feel she should. Something about the way her dream was so realistic last night, or the way her drawings seemed so much more complete. There was no way she could just sit down and keep writing that story without finding more out about the two main characters.
She caught herself thinking it and promptly smacked her had with her palm. “Argh…. Um… I’ll… oh, I know.” She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and slid into her computer chair, flicking it on with a jiggle of her mouse. “I’ll do some of Eclipse’s new story. I want to characterize her a little more before we… um… I just want to characterize her a little more.”
“Uh-huh,” Sean said distractedly, already typing away, his eyes glued to the screen. Merry opened a new document and watched the cursor blink for a minute.
When she and Sean had entered the room, nothing was there. She had half-expected there to be characters milling about, checking out all her cool stuff and being silly with one another, but instead they were greeted by silence. She had been disappointed, but at the same time, she had expected nothing more and nothing less.
“So…. Eclipse,” she thought, staring at the screen. “You’re not real. But I’ll try to come close.” She began to type.
The night was thick and dark, and the black clouds that blanketed the sky poured down rain relentlessly on the ominous woods. A figure lay crumpled in a gully by the wood’s edge, soaked with blood and rainwater, shivering and crying into her arm.
She was only seventeen. How did this happen?
The girl lifted her head only long enough to realize she was in a ditch, too weak to move or pull herself free. Her muscles were tight, her body curled into an unmovable ball. Her teeth were clenched, and her stomach hurt horribly. She let her head fall again, splashing in the mud that was quickly forming beneath her. She let out a whimper of distress.
No one knew she was here, she realized. There was no way she was getting out of this alive. That was why she was crying. Her sister and brother weren’t expecting her until the end of the month, and her master…
She had seen Kian struck by the mage’s shaft.
“Is he out here too, bleeding? Dying?” she wondered dimly through her fogged consciousness, blinking the water out of her eyelashes and trying to breathe. Her lungs spasmed, and she coughed out a mouthful of blood and water. She wasn’t aware her sobs were aloud until she heard them when the wind lulled.
“Kian…” she croaked, moving her arms far enough to grab a handful of mud and try to drag herself forward, but it only got more mud on her face. She let out another burst of sobs, and realized she was bleeding heavier than she thought as her side suddenly warmed. It was soaked with fresh blood. “Kian…”
One hand groped and found a root. A spark of hope burst to life in her chest and she gripped the root with all her strength, determined not to let go. Then, with a burst of strength, she heaved herself up with one arm, but only managed to move a few inches. She dropped back to the ground, splashing mud, getting it in her mouth. She spit it back out, felt the blood warm her side again, and tried heaving once more.
This time she made it a bit farther. She let out a scream as she fell again, gasping and tasting the rich dirt in the mud before choking on it and coughing it out. Her side burned like a hot coal was pressed to it, and she could still feel where the knife had been.
The rain drowned out all noise. All she could hear was the rain pounding on a million leaves, soaking her, splashing her, choking her. She gripped the root again and flung herself up, gripping the edge of the ditch with her other hand, her breaths heavy and hoarse as she determinedly focused on getting to the top. Her vision as spotty, she realized, as big black dots faded in and out in the corners of her eyes, and then flashed red. She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head before opening them again.
Dark. It was so dark. The only thing she could make out was the shining wetness of the leaves in each flash of lightning, as well as the dark outlines of trees in the distance. How wide was the forest? Where was Kian?
Her thoughts were getting foggier. She thought she heard Kian calling, but she had seen him go down. His talisman was missing, he couldn’t have survived.
She heard someone crying and realized it was herself. Her empty sword sheaths were chafing her legs where the cloth had been torn away from her shins. She could feel the raw skin becoming blood-soaked.
She thought she heard Kian calling again. It was far away, too far away to hear through the rain.
Then how could she hear him?
She tried to lift her head again and managed to see over the very top of the ridge. Lightning flashed and she saw a figure in the distance. She blinked rapidly. It couldn’t be him.
No, he wasn’t alive.
It was obvious he was limping, and badly, but he was still walking. But she had seen the shaft go through him…
He fell to his knees before her, reaching down and cupping her face in his hands. “Eclipse… you’re alive…”
“Kian…?”Her voice was a mere croak. “You’re… you’re…”
“Alive too,” he gasped, and she saw blood in the corner of his mouth. “We need to get out of here. They’re coming.”
Terror struck her already exhausted heart.
“Why?” her voice was broken, and fresh tears leaked down her face, streaking through the mud.
“Because…” Kian shook his head, his wet, blonde hair plastered to his face, blood streaming through it. “The world… they can’t accept us.”
She was crying again. “But why?”
Kian had no answer. Their eyes locked for a long moment, and Eclipse realized what she saw was sorrow. Something in the way his expression was apologetic…
“We need to get you out of here,” he suddenly said stiffly, interrupting her slow thoughts. Using the majority of his strength, he looped his arms around her and pulled her up as gently as he could, but still she gasped as she flopped onto the sodden forest floor.
They both snapped their heads up as the faraway sounds of shouting reached their ears. It was muffled by the rain, but already they could see the torches flickering in the distance, protected from the rain by the glowing spheres of magic.
“Stay awake,” Kian ordered, shaking his hair out of his eyes and preparing to lift her. She could see him shaking, and wondered dimly if he had the strength to lift her. He did, swiftly, but staggered once he was on his feet. Then he turned away from the lights and began limping deeper into the forest. Eclipse’s consciousness was still weakening.
“Will we die?” she asked, her head cradled against Kian’s shoulder. He was panting heavily, but he shook his head.
She felt safer. The way he said it was unarguable.
“I see them!” someone shouted from afar. Kian started. Then he looked into her eyes.
“Eclipse,” he said huskily, something akin to despair on his words.
He paused, but only momentarily. “Promise… promise me something.”
“That you’ll carry on with your family.” He slowly knelt and lowered her to the ground. Confused, she looked up as she heard a ripping sound, and saw him tearing up his coat. Then he tied it around her middle, cutting the blood flow from the wound. Everything was foggy…
“But… why?” She didn’t seem to feel pain anymore.
“Just promise me, Eclipse,” Kian panted. He looked over his shoulder and worked faster. “This is important to me.” He looked up and caught her eye, looking deep into her. “Very important.”
She didn’t need to wait to answer. “Alright… I promise,” she mumbled sleepily. She became dully aware that Kian was hiding her in a hollowed-out pit underneath the roots of a nearby tree. Like a cage.
“What are you doing?”
“Stay.” He began burying the roots with leaves, keeping her hidden.
She heard him running off, shouting at the top of his lungs, running the other way.
There was silence for a few moments, as the shouting became quieter.
Merry sat back and stared at the magnificent, dark piece of work before her. Something about it was different then stuff she had done before. Her eyebrows went up and she pushed away, musing on the piece.
Something about Eclipse was different than the others.
Or maybe she wasn’t.
Or maybe she was.
Merry couldn’t seem to decide. Instead, she finished her writing session with a single word.
Sean looked up. “Wow what?”
“Wow as in, wow,” she replied, pointing at her screen. “I just did part of Eclipse’s back story, and it’s all new-like.”
“Back story?” Sean clambered to his feet and came up behind her, peering over her shoulder at the screen, one hand on the chair. Merry sat back and let him read it, which took him only a few minutes. When he was done, he pulled back looking impressed.
“Wow,” he said, and Merry nodded.
“That’s what I said.”
“I know.” He eyed it again, musing. “Where did it come from?”
“I have no idea,” she replied with a long breath, seemingly exhausted by the extensively detailed story segment. “But it certainly worked out well, didn’t it?”
“I’ll say.” Sean sat on the desk beside her computer and pointed philosophically at her with his pencil. “You never really do back stories. Why did you decide to do Eclipse’s?”
Merry shrugged again and pushed back, letting her chair roll partway across the floor. “It came to me,” she explained. “So I wrote it down. It was almost like watching a movie and then describing it.”
“Ooh,” said Sean. He took off his glasses for effect and looked her up and down. “You’ve never had that kind of… revelation before.” Merry made a face at him.
“Well. Now’s the time to start. I plan to have many more revelations before Eclipse’s story is fully told!” She did a dramatic flair and then spun out of her chair, stumbling to the bed and collapsing on it. “What time is it?”
Sean checked his watch. “Time for me to go.
“Ok,” Merry replied, lifting her head and smiling. “See you tomorrow.”
That night, Merry fell asleep quickly, falling on her bed and almost instantly going out of it. She jolted herself awake again only long enough to feed the goldfish, and then went back to flopping on the pillows. She was out like a light.
But then, her mind began constructing on its own, and she began to dream.
All she heard was the sound of thunder. Over and over and over again. It was ringing in her ears, bouncing around her head, oppressing her from all sides. She was standing on top of a tall cliff coated with long, waving grasses that came up to her waist. Out across the landscape was a wide, dark ocean, as grey and tumultuous as the sky above it.
There was no sound but the thunder.
Merry put her hands over her ears, but it only got louder. The overwhelming feeling of guilt suddenly poured over her, as if she knew what was happening. It wasn’t thunder… but what was it?
It was behind her. Slowly, she began to turn, and she knew what she would see, but at the same time she didn’t know what she would see.
She turned her head. Saw behind her… and the thunder came up to her and overtook her in an instant.
Her eyes popped open and she realized her heart was beating wildly. Someone was shaking her by the shoulder.
“Wake up,” the figure urged. “Come on… wake up.”
“I’m awake,” she whispered, and then sat up as the hand retracted. She rubbed her eyes and then took a look at the clock on her dresser. 4:03 AM. “…why did you wake me up so early?” She wasn’t in the least bit pleased.
“You called me again.” The voice was familiar, yet unfamiliar. “You must have been having a nightmare.
“Eh?” She peered at the figure through the darkness. Soft brown eyes. Pointed ears. Merry suddenly recoiled, pulling up the blankets. “So you are real!”
“I thought we went over this,” Lore huffed, crossing his arms. Even in the darkness she could see his heated expression. “And I saw you join your friend in trying to convince yourself that I’m not.” Merry blinked, shook her head rapidly.
“But… it was day time…”
“I came to you in the day time,” he replied irritably. “I’m highly disappointed that you doubt us now.”
Merry let out a huff of indignance and sat up straight, facing him head-on. “Hey, I’m not doubting you. Yesterday was me doubting me.”
“Which in turn, leads to you doubting our existence. So you doubt us.”
“Well this is the second time you’ve come to me,” she explained, spreading her hand. “So you must be real.”
“You don’t think this is a dream, do you?” The question was genuine, not rhetorical.
“Um… no, not… really…”
“That’s what I thought.” Lore looked away, his expression saddening. He closed his eyes “So the freedom that you’ve given us is now no longer ours to keep, is it? You simply don’t believe in us. Even after the last time…”
Merry felt guilty watching him. She had spent the last twenty-four or so hours trying to convince herself that at first they were real, and then later that they weren’t. The main reason was Sean, and then the plain fact that it simply couldn’t have existed. She briefly wondered if any other writers had the ability to summon their characters.
“It’s not an ability,” Lore interrupted, and she jumped.
“You can hear my thoughts?!” she cried, pushing herself up against the pillows.
“You can see into my mind, why shouldn’t I see into yours?” He turned his eyes to her again and frowned deeply. “I need you to start believing in me. Otherwise, we may just stop believing in you.”
“But… you can’t… I’m the writer.”
“And just a writer. What would you be without us?” He seemed authentically angry now, and he stood up beside her bed, glaring down with a challenging look. “Merry, you need to decide what you believe is real and what isn’t. If you can’t figure it out soon, you’re going to lose a lot.”
Merry shrank beneath her blankets and gave him a confused look. “Eh?”
He loomed, or did his best to. “Do you believe in me or not?”
“Um…” Merry glanced around, but there was nothing that could help her in any way. “I… um…”
Lore’s clenched fists slowly loosened. “So you really don’t believe in us… at all?”
Merry decided she needed to think about it. She held up her hand. “Give me a minute. I have to think about this…”
“How long do you want?” His question was flat. Merry swallowed.
“Give me until four thirty,” she said, motioning at the clock. It read 4:10 AM. Lore slowly nodded.
“Ok. Fine. I’ll be waiting.” He turned away and walked into a shadow, disappearing from sight. Merry decided to flick on the light so she could think better, but when she did, Lore was gone.
“Hmmm…” she settled back on her pillows and began to muse. She had twenty minutes, and she would spend them wisely.
The fact that Lore had shown up twice now surprised her. If she was indeed dreaming, they were vivid, repeating dreams that somehow didn’t make sense at the same time that they did. She thought about how that didn’t make sense, and then shook her head.
“I have to make sense out of this,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes with the backs of her hands. “If I’m dreaming, I have some pretty intense dreams… but if I’m not dreaming, then I have possibly the greatest gift she’d ever received. The possibility that her characters were all real had never actually occurred to her before last night. This was more, however, than just whether or not characters were real.
This was a battle of realities.
“No, it’s not that serious,” she muttered to herself, rubbing her face again. This was just a matter of whether or not she thought her characters were vivid enough to actually appear. But they seemed so real… especially Lore.
Minutes ticked by as Merry’s mind raced. There was so much to consider – the way Sean had reacted, the way she had reacted to Sean’s reaction, what her parents would think, what her siblings would think. Or Tristan, anyway.
But could anybody else really see them?
Merry forced herself to stay awake by sitting up and keeping her back straight. She stared at the opposite wall and thought about her family the most. As she did, things slowly started to fall into place. Important things.
If her parents realized she believed in her characters, what would they do? What would Tristan do if he found out his sister’s imagination was taking over her life? She shuddered. There would be a lot of arguing… or would there? Something inside her seemed warning, somehow, as if a little red flag was waving in her mind. There was something wrong with letting her parents know about her gift. Or anyone.
“Perhaps…” she thought as the clock read 4:28, “nobody has to know… what if I just never told anybody?” A surge of excitement suddenly coursed through her, but she forced herself to keep calm. “Yes, that’s it. A secret. The biggest secret ever kept from anybody… my secret.” She stared into the darkness and slowly smiled, her eyes brighter, her insides feeling much more at ease.
“Come on out, Lore,” she said to an empty corner as the clock blinked and changed to 4:30.
She swallowed, but didn’t relent.
“I said come out.” She suddenly heard a muted footstep as someone emerged, and her heart leapt to her throat. Lore’s smile was pleasant, relived almost.
“So,” he said softly, his eyes twinkling. “I suppose this is a new beginning, isn’t it?”
Merry nodded, feeling choked up for some reason. “It is in my book.”
Lore lifted his eyebrow. “Don’t you mean my book?”
Merry let out a laugh, letting the tightness of her throat go. “It’s a saying, silly. It’s sort of like saying ‘I agree’.”
“Ah.” Lore shook his head, but smiled. Merry lay down in bed and pulled up the covers, settling in and looking up at Lore contentedly.
“I’ll still believe in you tomorrow, ok?”
“Do you promise?”
“Alright, see you then.”
Morning came in a rush.
“Merry! Merry wake up!” someone was pounding on her door, sounding frantic. Merry awoke in an instant, let out a yelp, leaped out of bed, scrambled for the door, and flung it open in the person’s face.
“What?! What’s wrong?!” she shouted, her heart pounding wildly. Mark was on the other side of the door, standing casually with a backpack in one hand.
“Mom wanted me to get you. The school bus will be here in like twenty minutes.”
“Augh!” She slammed the door in his face again and whirled, dashing for the bathroom. However, there was someone standing in front of the mirror, inspecting her face. Merry skidded to a stop. “What the-?!”
“Hey, calm down, it’s me,” Cheera replied casually, pulling down her lower eyelid and examining her eyeball. Merry stared. “Can I borrow some of this colored powder stuff that you put on your face?”
“Um… yes?” Merry shook her head, remembering last night’s conversation. It was exciting, but she was in a rush. “Look, I need to shower and put on makeup and take my medicine really, really fast. Could you wait outside?”
“Spfft, fine,” Cheera brushed past her, taking the makeup along. Merry snatched it back.
“Wait til I’m done with it.” She closed the door, locked it, and quickly hopped into the shower, her mind racing. “Wow,” she thought. “I really do believe…I really do…”
It gave her a kind of satisfied, calm feeling as she slathered up with soap. There was someone waiting for her when she got home, someone new to talk to and explore the minds of through real conversation. She let out a little giggle as she finished her shower and dried off, throwing on her clothes. She applied some minimal makeup and downed a pill before bursting out the door and nearly tripping over Lore as he lay on her floor, relaxing.
“Good morning, princess,” he said casually, looking contented with the rug’s soft texture. He watched as she frantically began throwing things into her backpack. “Late princess.”
“I’ll be back tonight… or this afternoon… or sometime!” she cried. “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so we’ll have all day, so… um…”
“Breakfast,” Lore said, motioning with his head at the door.
“Right!” Merry stampeded out the door with a faint ‘see you soon!’ before she disappeared down the stairs and out of sight.
Cheera and Lore smiled at each other as Merry disappeared from sight, frantically yelling for Carrie to get some eggs.
“Well,” Cheera said softly, examining the makeup container. “Your little midnight visit did the trick, Lore. What did you say to her?”
“Nothing too important,” he replied, stretching. “I just challenged her.” He stopped and grinned to himself, smirking. “I like challenging her.”
“So it seems,” Cheera replied gaily. She turned to the mirror and looked at herself again. “Now how does one put this stuff on?”
“Who knows,” Lore replied, rolling onto his stomach and randomly doing pushups. “By the way, have you seen Eclipse yet today?”
“Hmmm… Eclipse… Eclipse… I’m trying to remember where I saw her last…”
“I’m wondering where she is now.”
“Well I haven’t seen her this morning, I know that much. She must have gone back to her book.”
“We have to let her know that we’re free to come here now,” Lore pointed out, finishing his pushups and flipping around before standing neatly. He looked around. “Where’s the story central thingy-ma-bobber that Merry uses when she writes our books?”
“I think it’s over there,” Cheera replied, pointing absentmindedly at the computer on the other side of the room.
“Thanks.” Lore waltzed over to the desk casually, examined it, and then picked up Merry’s box of collected seashells before lifting his eyebrow. “Hmm…” He turned back to Cheera. “And how does it work, exactly?”
Lore turned back to the seashells and picked one up, looking it over. “Hmm… it smells like old clams.”
“Wha-?” Cheera turned her head, saw what he had, and deadpanned at him. “Lore, you idiot, that’s not what I meant.” She pointed at the computer again. “That thing. The black, square thing that doesn’t look very important.”
“This black, square thing?” Lore asked, poking the computer.
“Well. It doesn’t look very important.”
“That’s what I said,” Cheera huffed, reading the instructions on the back of the makeup. “Now try and figure out how it works.” She began tentatively applying the powder to her face.
Lore eyed the computer before reaching forward and flipping up the lid. Grinning, he then went on to push every single button he could see until one of them brought the lights blinking and winking at him.
“I think I have it,” he called to Cheera as she moved into the bathroom. “…I think.”
“Keep on thinking, maybe you’ll actually get somewhere,” she replied casually. Lore turned back to the laptop and mused.
However, as soon as the screen popped up – the laptop had been in standby mode – someone tapped his shoulder.
“Not now, Cheera, I’m so close to figuring out this thing….”
“It’s me.” Lore turned and realized Eclipse was standing behind him, smiling pleasantly. “I’ve been standing in the hall outside, waving to Merry. I was going to poke around for a bit, but there are other people in the house.”
“Oh.” Lore glanced at the laptop, then at Eclipse, then back at the laptop. He raised his voice again. “I found her!”
“Oh good. Now we can wait here together for twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours?” Eclipse feigned on the bed with a soft exhale and closed her eyes. “May as well sleep.” Lore stared at her for a moment, absentmindedly twirling in the computer chair, looking thoughtful. Eclipse opened her eyes briefly, and noticed he was looking at her. “What?”
“Mm…” Lore rubbed his chin. “Something seems different, Eclipse.”
She froze, and then quickly smiled, laughing to cover up her sudden nervousness. “No, everything’s fine. Why do you ask?”
Lore shrugged. “You’re acting… different. You seem different.” He peered at her and changed to a serious tone. “Did something happen?”
“What’s what where?” Cheera came out of the bathroom, a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth, and glanced between them.
“Nothing,” Eclipse replied casually, putting her hands behind her head and crossing her legs. “We’re just… having a conversation about… um…” She glanced around for any nearby object. Her eye caught sight of a bag with words on it. “Jelly beans.”
Cheera gave her a disbelieving look, but then stopped. “Wait… what? What are jelly beans?”
“Umm… these things.” Eclipse scooped up the bag and tossed it at Cheera, who caught it swiftly with one hand. She examined it.
“Jelly beans… now in over fifty delicious flavors…. You eat them?”
“They are beans, after all.”
Cheera opened the bag carefully and eyed the colorful display of candy inside. “But how does one prepare them?”
“Soak them in water for two hours before boiling,” Eclipse replied stately, pointing at the bathroom. “Then mash them and you have jelly.”
“Oh… how… odd…” Cheera turned and went slowly back into the bathroom with the intention of plugging up the sink and using it to soak her new-found delicacy. Eclipse giggled into her hand before spreading out again and stretching with a loud, content sigh.
“Something did happen, then.” Lore’s voice was concerned, worried. The black-haired woman looked up again, surprised, as if she had forgotten he was there.
Lore stood up and came over to the bed before sitting down cross-legged beside it, his head on a level with Eclipse’s. “What is it? Does it have something to do with what Merry wrote about you last night? At least, I’m pretty sure she wrote about you last night. Did she?”
Eclipse’s smile faded and she glanced away at the opposite wall. Lore moved to see her better, and tapped her shoulder.
“What did she write?”
Eclipse let out a long sigh but didn’t reply immediately. Lore waited a few moments, but right as he was about to ask again, Eclipse spoke. “It was about me when I was young,” she said quietly, her voice distant. “When I was just a kid… a teenager.”
Lore put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly as she continued, looking as if she was in another world. “Kian was there… From so long ago….”
She broke out of her trance momentarily to glance sideways at him, before she let out another sigh. “My old trainer… a mage swordsman…” she squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “It was a long time ago.”
Lore’s eyebrows drew together. “Why is it painful to talk about?”
She almost laughed, but it turned into a sad chuckle instead. “He’s gone. Dead, probably.” Lore seemed startled. “He sacrificed his life to protect me…”
There was a long silence as Lore tried to soak the new information in. He realized he understood something he hadn’t before.
“So we’re just like… playthings…” he murmured to himself, glancing away. Eclipse rolled onto her side and, reaching over, brushed the hair out of his eyes. He looked up.
“Maybe, but at least now we have some say in what happens to us,” she said gently, smiling at him. “Otherwise… we would be trapped. And it’s all thanks to you.”
Lore shrugged. “Merry isn’t cruel. I just don’t want her to turn into something she’s not… luckily, I doubt she’ll realize how powerful she is. She’s much too excited by the fact that we’re actually real.”
Eclipse nodded and lay casually on the pillow again, smiling softly. “You’re smart, Lore. You know a lot about Merry… where did you learn to connect with her like that?”
He shrugged. “It… came naturally, I guess. She’s an easy person to relate to… kind of… sort of…”
Eclipse chuckled lightly. “You two are alike, somehow.” Lore lifted his eyebrow.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I don’t know either of you that well yet… but the general impression I’ve received so far is that you’re similar.”
“Wow…” Lore stared off into the distance, musing. Eclipse patted his shoulder.
“Even you should have guessed that.”
“No, not that…” he replied thoughtfully. “It’s just that… when you first came in you were so bubbly and talkative. Now you’re slightly more serious. You sound like you know what you’re talking about.” He chuckled to himself a little. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Eclipse reassured him. “Now… all we have to worry about is Cheera realizing I bluffed to her.”
She shrugged. “I have no idea what jelly beans are.”
That day, there was no escaping going to Sean’s house. At first Merry was disappointed, but then she realized how much she had been abandoning Sean for the past few days, especially since the incident at school, and she relented. They had a fun time, at least, word warring and writing like crazy until they were so burned out they couldn’t do anything.
All Merry got out of it was a scene with Advix talking to one of his lieutenants about his evil plot, which didn’t turn out so well, at that. But she was satisfied with the outcome nonetheless.
“That’s a lot of words we wrote just now,” Merry exhaled, spread out on Sean’s bed. He was sprawled on the floor, seemingly exhausted.
“Yes it is.”
Merry glanced up only long enough to get a look at the clock that hung above Sean’s doorway. “Eh… it’s time for me to go home.”
Sean looked up at the clock too. “We have three minutes.”
“My mom wants me to get home on time these days,” she lamented, and rolled off his bed onto the floor to collect her notebook. “If I waste any time she’ll be on my back about it tomorrow.”
“Ah…” Sean sounded disappointed. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Yep. I’ll see you then. Bye!”
Merry rose and, stretching, cracked her neck before heading toward the door. She was about to exit, however, when Sean spoke up.
She turned. “Yeah?”
He looked thoughtful, fingering his glasses. He glanced up and caught her eye. “Are you over that thing yesterday? You know, when you thought your characters were real?”
Merry froze, staring for a moment.
“I… uh…” Sean stared. Then she broke into nervous laughter, but tried to appear casual. She waved her hand. “Of course I am, Sean. We talked about it then, didn’t we?” She smiled, feeling her cheeks burning with nervousness.
“Hmm…” Sean eyed her a moment more, but then shrugged and, rolling onto his back, let out a sigh. “Alright. See you at school tomorrow.”
She closed the door behind her with a quiet click, and then put her back against it, letting out a huge breath. “This may be harder than I thought…”
She went down the short hall and straight out the door into the early evening light, where she began the trek home.
As soon as she left Sean’s house, she began to anticipate getting back to her room. It was exciting, being the only person alive able to bring her characters to life, for real. She grinned widely to herself and continued on doing so until she thought people might think she looked funny. After that she merely smiled shallowly until she reached her front door.
As soon as it had swung open, Mark raced around the corner, lifted his water gun, and shot her with it.
“Ack!” she cried, jumping back as the cold water touched her stomach. “Mark!”
“Gotcha!” he cried before turning and hightailing it back toward the living room. Merry made a face and stormed inside, but didn’t pursue him. She had more important things to do.
She heard Tristan coming down the stairs and hurriedly decided to avoid him by slipping into the kitchen. Carrie was preparing dinner, as usual, and Merry sneaked off a tidbit of turkey before hurrying off and, after peering into the hallway to be sure it was empty, dashed off up the stairs.
As soon as she got to her room, she put her hand on the knob and stopped.
“It is real,” she thought to herself strongly. ”They are real.”
She pushed the door open slowly, but instead of opening normally, it flew open and someone inside grabbed her arm and dragged her in swiftly. She let out a yell but it was muffled when the figure hugged her briefly and then tossed her aside.
“She’s back!” Lore cried as soon as Merry landed on the bed, eyes wide. Immediately there was commotion from the bathroom, and Cheera came charging out, her hands and arms up to her elbows covered with a thick, goopy, colorful substance.
“Finally!” the elf woman shouted, pointing at her. Merry leaned back. “You were gone for forever!”
Eclipse emerged from the bathroom also, wearing the bathroom curtains as an apron. “Merry! You’re back! Our wait is over!”
“Wha… what have you been doing since I left?” she asked, getting off the bed and going to hug both Cheera and Eclipse. They hugged back.
“Being bored,” Lore snorted, leaping onto her bed and crouching, gargoyle style. Merry smiled at them all.
“You guys seem like you’ve been having fun, eh?”
“That depends on what you mean by fun,” Lore replied, falling into a sitting position again.
Merry crossed her arms and looked thoughtful. “Well. Here I am. What are we going to do now that I’m here, though? It’s not like I can… take you out places.”
“What?” Cheera asked, sounding disappointed. “But… we’ve been so… bored! You can’t just leave us hanging! We were looking forward to doing something! This is driving us insane!” She loomed over Merry threateningly, and Lore pulled her back with a tug to the back of her shirt. Merry seemed startled.
“Eh, it’s fine if we have to stay here,” Eclipse tried not to sound as disappointed as she felt. “After all, we are dressed in our armor…. Except this apron.”
“And this funny-looking hat,” Lore said, donning a tiara he’d found in Merry’s dresser. Everyone ignored him as Merry went back to the bed and sat down, rubbing her chin in deep thought.
“Hmm… so it’s up to me to figure out how to entertain you?”
“And you want me to do it quickly?”
They nodded again.
“Well then…” Merry fell into thought again, and a few moments passed in silence.
“Well?” Cheera was impatient.
“Give me a second… I’m onto something…” Merry closed her eyes and mused as everyone leaned in, eyes wide. Momentarily, her eyes popped open and everybody leaned back again. “I have it.”
“What? What?” Lore peered around the girls, excited.
“Yeah, what?” Cheera leaned closer. Eclipse merely listened.
“Tonight,” she said theoretically, raising one finger for effect. “I’m going to take you all for a walk.”
There was silence for a moment.
“A… walk?” Lore asked.
“Because, it’ll do you some good. Plus, in the dark, nobody will be able to see us.”
“What if they do see us?” Cheera asked, almost crossing her arms before remembering they were covered in jelly bean residue.
Merry shrugged. “They won’t. Nobody’s out at night except the police patrol.”
“Oooooh,” everybody looked interested again. “A police patrol?”
“Yeah. We’ll have to avoid them. Curfew and all.”
“Avoid… a patrol?” Lore stuck his head in between Cheera and Eclipse, eyes shining. Merry shrugged. “Yeah. But first, I’m going to get some writing done.”
“Aww…” Everybody turned away and dispersed. “More boredom…”
Merry plopped into her computer chair and, flipping the lid open, eyed the blinking cursor. “Not for long…”
The bright white palace rose into the air, strikingly contrasting the turquoise blue sky behind it. The rear courtyard was empty, save one figure, sitting alone at the base of a tree. Her eyes were closed as she meditated, or slept – nobody could tell which.
She had been there almost all day. It was so clear outside, so warm, she couldn’t resist. Her thin, silk dress hung loosely about her thirteen-year old self, allowing her to feel the breeziness around her happily.
She briefly wondered where Deiter had been this whole time – usually he would jump at the chance to scare her while she was meditating, but she hadn’t seen him for hours. Last she saw, he was preparing to go on a horse ride with a few servants.
Typical, Deiter. Dragging the servants along to take part in whatever mischief he had planned.
Cheera opened her eyes and glanced up at the palace as she heard something break, but then one of the housekeepers started swearing loudly, and she looked away.
Even out here, so many distractions to keep her from having internal peace. She had spent the past half a day trying more to ignore outside sounds than focusing on her inner tranquility.
She let out a long breath and closed her eyes again, trying to clear her mind of anything and everything, searching for a few moments of aloneness and peace. For a few seconds, it worked.
Then there was an outbreak of excited shouting from a group of boys outside the courtyard wall, no doubt playing one of their lowly street games. Cheera made a face and rose, heading for the nearest door that led back into the castle.
Her skirts swished around her legs easily and her bare feet made no noise on the warm cobblestones, her long, honey-colored hair rippling down her back, unbraided. She caught a whiff of a delicious pie cooking in the kitchen and wondered what kind it was. Then she caught herself.
“Ach, so many distractions…” she shook her head, disappointed at own her lack of concentration. “I need to find a quiet room.”
She headed into the castle silently and stole her way down the halls, as if being pursued by some unknown force. She lithely slipped around a corner and stopped, her back to the wall, before peering around the corner again, evading her imaginary captors skillfully.
“Hey, what are you doing?” the loud voice startled her and she jumped, whirling to face it. It was Deiter, arms folded, wearing a devilish look with his dark hair pushed over one side.
“Nothing,” Cheera replied haughtily. Deiter was a year older and much taller than her, but she never let him get the better of her.
She brushed by him, holding her head high, and began heading stately for her chambers. She heard footsteps behind her and scowled as Deiter fell into step by her side.
“So,” he said casually, strolling along. “When does your next round of training begin, O athletic cousin?”
Cheera rolled her eyes. “The end of the month,” she said stonily. “It’s the end of the summer. I’ve told you this before, idiot.”
“I know,” he replied nonchalantly, glancing off into the distance. “But you know how it is. Work, being a prince, school… all that whatnot. Drives me off topic. Forget things.”
“Sure it does,” Cheera replied, trying her best to ignore him. She wanted to find a quiet, peaceful spot to relax before lunch.
“So where are you heading now?”
“Where is this somewhere else?”
“Somewhere away from you.”
“But if I go with you, this somewhere won’t exist anymore.”
Cheera glared sideways at him. “Unless I kick you through a window.”
Deiter considered. She had done similar things before. “True. But I doubt you will. We’re in the palace, not outside where it’s notably easier to kick someone, say, into a tree.” It was his turn to glare at her, but she seemed smug now.
“You get what you ask for,” she replied casually. She stopped in front of the stairs that led to her bedroom and, considering going there, shrugged. “You can go now. I’m off to meditate.”
“I’m still following you, remember?” he followed her as she mounted the stairs imperially, her cousin still on her tail. She tried her best to restrain her tongue, but she accidentally let it slip.
Deiter pretended to be hurt. “Why, O cousin? What about my charming self is so undesirable?”
Cheera clenched her teeth momentarily to bite back a particularly sharp retort. “It’s just you, Deiter. You refuse to leave me alone. I’m meditating. The two concepts don’t mix very well.”
“So I gathered when you kicked me into a tree last week.”
“That was a breaking point. You had been bothering me all day.”
“I thought people who meditated were perfectly calm and levelheaded?”
They neared Cheera’s door. “You were being extremely persistent that day. It was… bothersome.”
“Apparently.” They stopped in front of the door and Cheera proudly flung it open before strutting inside. Deiter watched after her, and just before the door closed she caught his eye for a brief moment. His expression was different.
The door clicked shut. “It was nothing.” Cheera thought to herself as soon as it did. She turned away and headed for the bed, sinking into it, cross-legged. “Deiter is the most popular person in the castle. He’s not lonely.”
She thought about how they used to play together as children all the time.
And now, never.
“Maybe I should talk to him.” But she had to meditate.
She closed her eyes and cleared her mind.
The evening meal came and passed. Cheera returned to her room directly afterward, and only later realized she hadn’t seen Deiter there.
“He’s probably sneaked off to be with some kitchen girl,” she scoffed to herself, rolling her eyes. She couldn’t believe her cousin sometimes. For now, all she had to worry about was studying her sword-fighter’s written textbook on sword design, and complete her next journal entry.
Her master would be pleased about the first part, and interested in the second. She always enjoyed reading Cheera’s accounts of the day.
Cheera reached her room in a light mood, but as she went to open the door, she stopped. She could hear the faint strains of voices around the corner, in the next hall. One of them, she thought was Dieter’s, the other she couldn’t make out. Curious, she tiptoed sideways down the hall and flicked her ear in the direction of the sounds.
At first she couldn’t make anything out. The voices were drowned out by another outburst of shouting from the street scum outside, and she wrinkled her nose at the window, angered. Finally, the racket quieted, and she perked up again, sneaking closer. The voices were still talking.
“…in three hours,” she heard Deiter – at least she was sure it was Deiter – say. “Make sure it’s done right.”
“But… sir I…,” the second voice replied evenly. It sounded older. “Why?”
Deiter paused, and Cheera’s ears strained harder. “Reasons, my friend. Reasons. It will all make sense in time. Now please, just do as I ask. You will be rewarded.”
The man Dieter was talking to seemed hesitant. “Alright, sir.”
Suspicious, Cheera narrowed her eyes and, sneaking up to the corner itself, peered around cautiously.
“Goodbye, then,” she heard Dieter say, just as the other person whisked around the other corner and disappeared into the opposite hall with a flutter of long cloak. She silently cursed as her cousin – she could see him now – watched his conversation partner leave. Then he turned.
Swiftly, she pulled her head back and darted over to her door. She put her hand on the knob and pushed it open just as her cousin rounded the corner, and it clicked shut as he entered the hall. She listened intently for a moment, and heard his footsteps pass her door by.
She let out a breath, although she didn’t know why.
“Hm,” she said to herself after he was gone. She wandered back over to her bed and sat on it, positioning herself cross-legged again as she pulled out her textbook. “I wonder who that was.”
The thought began to dwindle as she delved into her book, but it kept nagging at a corner in her mind. She did her best to ignore it, until finally she became bored with the subject she was reading about, and she turned instead to her pillow.
She sprawled out on her bed and let her eyes stray to the ceiling, where she had pasted her collection of glowstones cut into the shape of stars.
“But who was it?” she asked, for no reason. The person had been an adult, of that she was almost certain. The voice had been too deep for that of a child, but she couldn’t understand why the man seemed so relenting to her cousin. Almost nobody did whatever he asked. And this person had seemed so reluctant…
She glanced at the time and realized she should have slid under the covers and turned out the light fifteen minutes ago. Swiftly, she blew out the candle.
Merry sat back and, amazed once more, tilted her head
“Well,” she said, saving the document quickly. “That’s a new one.” Cheera, Lore, and Eclipse blinked as they came back to Merry’s world.
Cheera seemed confused. “I… never… remembered that until now,” she said slowly. She looked at Merry.
“That’s because I never wrote it until now,” the writer explained. She let out a long breath and looked around before furrowing her brow. “Where are my jelly beans?”
The characters glanced at each other before bursting into chuckles. Merry glanced between them suspiciously for a few moments, and then cracked a wide smile. She waved her hand.
“Alright, alright, enough. Let’s all go on that walk now. It’s dark out.”
“Finally!” Cheera whirled and lunged for the bathroom, with the intention of washing her arms. Eclipse deftly removed the apron and tossed it on the bed as Lore replaced his boots. Merry laced up her shoes.
“Alright, let’s go.”
They emerged onto the street from Merry’s back yard in the mid-transition between twilight and darkness. Merry herself was wrapped in a dark pink hoodie, the hood flipped up and the strings drawn loosely.
Cheera and Eclipse were dressed in matching cardigans that belonged to Merry’s mom and aunt, which Merry had declined to mention. They were white, rope-knit sweaters with snug collars for the chilly evening air, and both wore a matching white knit hat.
Lore had on one of Tristan’s newer jackets that fit him quite nicely but was a little tight around the wrists. He also sported a cute winter hat to hide his ears. He said the coat was quite soft but kept him from whipping out his arrows if he needed to.
Merry pointed out that they didn’t need to use arrows on the streets, and when Cheera asked quite haughtily if crime did not exist in this world, too, Merry reminded them again of the police patrol they were going to be dodging. The elf woman quieted, but Lore still seemed uneasy about being unable to reach his weapons quickly.
Then they practically tiptoed their way down the street until finally they came to the first intersection. Eclipse’s armor clanked with each step, but everyone politely ignored it.
“Ok,” Merry said, eyeing the green light cautiously. There were no cars. “In the next few hours we may or may not encounter large, bellowing, metal beasts that zoom down this concrete roadway at insane speeds. I would prefer that, when they pass, you don’t freak out and make a scene.”
At that moment, a bright red Porsche flew around the corner, roared through the green light just before it changed, and disappeared into the distance almost as fast as it had come.
Merry paused as there was a moment of silence.
Then all three of her characters let out a simultaneous scream and attempted to run back to Merry’s house.
“Hey! Hey! Stop that!” she pointed after them. “Stop right there!”
Everybody skidded to a halt and turned, wide-eyed and panting. Merry held her hands up.
“I told you not to freak out and make a scene, didn’t I?” Everyone continued to stare, and Merry sighed. “That means, do not scream, and do not run away. Those things are perfectly harmless. They’re machines.”
“I thought…. I thought you said they were monsters?” Eclipse sounded pitifully frightened. Merry sighed.
“I meant machines. People operate them. Like me. Heck, in a year I’ll be old enough to operate one.”
“Really?” Lore nervously glanced up and down the road, expecting another one to come charging out.
“Really.” Merry beckoned them back and they slowly shuffled toward her in a scared huddle. She patted them individually on the back, to make sure they were calm, and then turned back just as the ‘walk’ symbol flashed. “Come on, we can walk now.”
She stepped forward casually and waltzed across the street, but when she reached the other side she realized she was alone. Turning, she frowned.
“What are you guys d-?” she stopped, seeing her characters all tiptoeing cautiously across the walkway, glancing every which way. She put her hands on her hips. “Come on guys, it’s not even that far. You should be having no trouble right now crossing this street.
She glanced up as the light turned green again.
“Grr. Hurry up now.”
“Why?” Cheera put her foot down carefully, as if each footstep might bring another car bearing down on them.
“Another mons- I mean, machine might come.”
“It might?” Lore looked up, eyes wide. “Ok, come on girls, get a move on.” He put a hand on each of their backs and pushed them along the road hurriedly. “Don’t want to get eaten, do we?”
“You’re not going to get eaten,” Merry reminded them, rolling her eyes as they neared the sidewalk. “There isn’t a single car on this roa-“
Without warning, another large car zipped by, the sound it made akin to screaming, and the driver blaring the horn a few times for them to get out of the way. Instantly, everybody broke into high-pitched screaming again and dove for the sidewalk, rolling out of the way before drawing their weapons.
Lore managed to get his bow and arrows out and was aiming for the car as it retreated, but Merry smacked him off aim.
“Gak!” he cried, un-notching his arrow. “Merry, don’t do that!”
“Then you don’t shoot after cars!” she shouted, snatching his bow and arrows and poofing them out of existence. Then she lowered her voice and herded him back toward the other two. “We don’t want to attract too much attention. Those cars won’t hurt you as long as you stay out of the way and obey my rules. Alright?” She looked at everybody. “Alright?”
They all nodded.
“Good. Now get up, come on.” She helped them all up, dusting them off. “The only thing that’s going to hurt us here is the sidewalk, and that’s only if we fall. Ok?”
“Alright, alright,” Cheera stood and pushed her hair back, letting out a long breath. Her short, tufted skirt looked very out of place with her white cardigan. As did the light blue designs on her face. Merry shook her head.
“Let’s get a move on.”