Spring Bonus Story
Further Down and Deeper In
Near the end of Year Five of the Addergoole School
“Come on, Kaia, wake up.” Conrad was calling her, but her dreams were nice and warm, and it was Sunday. She didn’t need to get up on Sunday.
“Kaia, please?” His voice sounded wrong. She opened her eyes and sat up slowly, looking around. He wasn’t in bed with her anymore. He was…
...he was in the mirror. That was impossible.
You’re in a room full of fae godlings and you still ask if magic is possible? How thick are you, anyway? Right. “Impossible” was now a null term, at least until she figured out the boundaries of this new paradigm.
“Kailani?” He wasn’t smiling, but he was reaching for her, his hand warping the surface of the mirror. “I need you to take my hand.”
She walked slowly around the bed to the mirror. “Conrad? Why are you… what are you doing?”
“I’ll explain later. But we have to hurry. We can’t be late.” His fingers wiggled at her through the mirror. “Please?”
“Okay.” If she said no, she’d be curious forever as to what was on the other side. She took his hand, trying to ignore the cold, slightly-slimy silvery coating over all but his fingertips.
“We’re going to be late,” he repeated. He tugged on her arm, just a little, and she fell towards him.
The mirror splashed across her face like a puddle of water, drenching her, coating her with the slimy stuff. Conrad caught her as she fell, and the slimy-wet sensation was gone. “There you go,” he said gently. “Now we need to hurry. The match has already begun.”
“Match? What match?” But he’d started running, so she ran to keep up.
“Faster! Faster!” His bare feet pounded the ground in a steadily increasing rhythm, until Kai felt there was no way she could keep up, but still he insisted, “Faster! Faster!” Her breath was burning in her lungs, but she couldn’t help but notice that the scenery around them, the meadow near where she’d been learning her Kaana, stayed the same, no matter how fast they ran. Was it all somehow moving along with them?
Conrad must have guessed her thoughts, because he tugged her arm again. “Faster! Faster! Don’t try to talk!” They kept running, long past when she thought she’d fall down, until finally he said, “Now!” and, as abruptly as he’d begun, he stopped.
She tumbled to the ground in a swirl of skirt – and when had she put a skirt on? She’d been wearing her nightgown! – wheezing, blinking to clear the spots from her vision. When she could see again, she looked around.
“We ran and ran,” she murmured, “and got nowhere; we stopped and now we’re somewhere different?”
“That’s how things happen,” Conrad answered, “Through Here, in the mirror-land.” He was wearing a waist-coat over an old-fashioned looking shirt, and from the pocket of the waistcoat he pulled a watch. “And now we’re on time. I have to get to my square.” He kissed her forehead. “I won’t be too far away.”
“Wait!” she called as he turned away, and, having no choice, he stopped, looking back at her. “I don’t know what to do,” she asked plaintively.
“Take the bike down the path. It will become clear as you go. I have to go, Kaia.” The last sounded like a question, so she nodded. “Thank you.” He kissed her once more, and was gone.
Take the bike down the path. She looked around, startled to find both a bike, an old-style Victorian Penny-farthing bicycle that looked a little questionable, and a path, smooth-paved in yellow marble. “Isn’t that odd?” she murmured. “I suppose yellow brick would have been too bumpy for the wheels.”
And such odd wheels they were! The front wheel was humongous, the back wheel tiny, and the whole thing looked ancient and unstable. “It’s like I’ve gone back in time,” she said, uncertain why she was talking to herself. It wasn’t normally a wise thing to do; it got one mocked worse than usual.
There didn’t seem to be anyone around to do the mocking, however, so she set the bike upright and attempted to get on it. After several false tries – during which she was very glad for the lack of an audience! – she successfully mounted the bike, her skirts indelicately hiked above her knees, and began peddling.
It wasn’t long before she came to a small bridge, seemingly carved all of the same daffodil-yellow marble, crossing a tiny little stream. The stones in the stream seemed to glitter like jewels, but, mindful of her precarious balance, she didn’t look too closely.
She peddled forward a little further, and found that the road was circling back on itself. “Sort of like an Ouroboros, only too lazy to make it all the way to his tail,” she commented, “or, I guess, just a cul-de-sac.” She said “sac” just as the road reached back on itself, and, as it did, the bicycle beneath her vanished.
“Oh!” She tumbled to the ground, landing hard, and looked around. There was the road, which went only back the way she had come, but there was a path ahead as well, meandering through tall grasses and paved in blue glass.
“I suppose I should go this way.” Talking to herself was fast becoming a habit. She tried to stop, but the words seemed to wish to keep coming. “I wish Conrad were here.”
“Might as well wish for the sky to be watermelon. Or beetles, for that matter.”
She looked around, but saw no-one to go with the smooth, melodic voice. “Pardon me,” she said – her mother had taught her that it was good to be polite, one of the few things of Moonchild’s teachings that she didn’t doubt now – “but I don’t see you anywhere. Could you come out where we could talk?”
“If you cannot see, it’s only for not having eyes for the looking. It isn’t the fault of the vision when the seer is blind,” the voice snipped. It seemed to be coming from awfully low to the ground, somewhere off to the side of the path.
“A narrow fellow in the grass,” Kai recited,
You should not mind him – you cannot
His malice silly is.
The path divides as in a tomb,
And still he is not seen,
And so you wander on unknowing
And he remains a cow’rd
He likes the quiet acre,
The shelter of the grass,
Yet ,like a child, obdurate,
He from his shelter scorns.
Like camouflage and upturned rocks
The meadow hides his fear
If stopping to censure him,
He’d wither and be gone.
Many of nature’s people,
Know him, and he knows them,
They all will tell of cowardly Incordiality
But meet him on your own terms
Attended or alone.
And fear not his sharp tongue, it
Means zero in the bone.”
It wasn’t quite the poem she had meant to recite, but it seemed appropriate, even as the words had twisted.
“All right, all right,” the voice in the grass muttered. “How did you guess?”
“It wasn’t all that hard,” she answered modestly. “Very few things are that low to the ground, and most of those don’t normally talk. I suppose you don’t typically talk, either, but you’ve been known to in legend, at least.” She hadn’t meant to, but, as she’d recited and conversed, she’d kept walking, and now she was at another pretty bridge, diagonally over the right-angle turn of another small creek. “Considering just how strange this place is – Through Here even more so than Down There – you’re probably an Adder.”
“You’re a clever one, you are. You’re going to need that for this next turn.”
“Why’s that?” she asked. Turn probably should have surprised her, but didn’t, not anymore, not since the bike had vanished.
“If I’m the Adder…” the snaked hissed in amusement.
“Oh,” she groaned, looking over the bridge at the oncoming man, with skin like chalk, nails thrust through both of his nipples, eyes like an albino rabbit's, “then he’s the Ghoul.”
To Be Continued... or will it?
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