A/N: The rest of the summary got cut off, so here it is...
She was an ordinary girl going through high school when her world was turned upside down. Caught in the flows of forbidden magic, Cao strived to learn all she can. But upon arriving at the Academy outside her own world, she finds that the magic she has access to is strictly forbidden and has been for many centuries. When her secret gets out and the Shadows of the North grow stronger, what will her path of action be?
Please note that this is still a work in progress and what ever is written here is not final in any way. If you see any mistakes, chances are they've been pointed out by one of my Betas and I just haven't changed it yet. I'm posting this here to make it easier for my Betas and anyone else who wants to read it. Thanks. Now on to the story.
Written by KR Vanderveen
It was a pleasant autumn day as a black fly buzzed in a circular pattern beneath one of the fluorescent lights, high above the heads of the students below. A few of the students, bored out of their minds, watched the fly in its meaningless flight. The teacher standing at the front of the class, currently in the middle of a stifling lecture, had a somewhat baldheaded, sparsely covered by wisps of white hair. Large spectacles rimmed his eyes and a thick mustache hid his mouth from view. As he talked, a monotone consumed his voice, lulling most of the pupils in the room to a dreamlike state of inattention. A few of the more eager learners had avoided being hypnotized and were furiously scribbling down notes from the lecture, trying desperately not to miss a word.
A 16 year old girl with golden hair was watching one of her closer friends scrawling down notes a few rows ahead of her in the classroom. Cao turned her azure eyes back to the paper she was supposed to be writing notes on. Various scribbles and unfinished doodles covered the lined sheet of paper. Cao sighed with obvious boredom and picked up her pencil to finish one of the more intricate doodles on the paper in front of her.
Elsewhere in the classroom, Chigai and Mei were playing with Mei's long chestnut brown hair. Chigai piled the twist of hair she had in her hand on top of Mei's head, causing it to fall into Mei's brown eyes. Both girls giggled quietly behind their propped up textbooks, avoiding the teacher's wrath. Shin, the tomboy-ish blond sitting next to them, started up a different conversation, no doubt involving Mei's current obsession with pink coloured accessories. Those three girls had been as close as sisters since the fifth grade.
One row behind the now chattering girls, Kashi sat quietly, absorbed in his mobile phone, which also happened to be a game system. His tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth slightly, dirty blond hair falling into his green eyes as if it was a veil. Si sat beside him, leaning comically over his shoulder to watch his gaming antics.
Ver sat only one row in front of Cao yet instead of drawing or talking to the people beside her, she was listening intently to the ancient teacher instruct. The current topic was about why certain rules in grammar were the way that they were and how they had changed over the years that English had been around. Her ebony black hair was bound back in a somewhat messy braid, her bangs escaping the hold of the elastic to fly into her dark eyes.
Cao had known most of her friends since the age of eleven, though some of them she had been friends with even earlier than that. They had been a tightly woven group all through middle school and into high school. Like all groups of friends, they had had their share of arguments, but always managed to make up once things were settled.
The bell rang, startling many of the students from their sleeplike state of mind. Once they realized that the class was over, they piled all their books and pens into a pile and dashed out the door into the student commons of the second floor of the school. Cao slung her bag over her shoulder and joined the masses out into the halls towards her locker. As she spun the lock to the proper numbers, Ver appeared beside her like magic.
"Hey Ver. I was wondering…" Cao began.
"No, you may not borrow my notes. If you wanted notes you should have taken some yourself," Ver interrupted quickly, before Cao could finish her thought.
"Let me guess, Kashi already asked to borrow them. Am I right?" Cao chuckled.
"Yes, he did. And I gave him the same answer as always. He's such a slacker," Ver replied. "Wanna go get some pizza?"
"Sure. I actually have cash for once," Cao replied, dumping her bag in her locker and tucking her wallet in her back pocket.
On their way out, Kashi raced out to catch up with them after deciding to tag along. The three of them chatted about the math homework that was due for the next class and Kashi persisted in trying to get a copy of the notes that Ver had taken during English. But the shorter teen out-thought him every time. By the time they had reached the little cornershop, Kashi had given up.
Before heading to the pizza parlor, they ducked into the convenience store that sat right beside the pizza place. The little shop was run by an older Asian couple whose children had grown up and left home for college and a career. They were generally nice, but they had been known to ban students from their store in the past for rowdy behavior.
Cao and Ver headed for the back of the shop to where the refrigerators holding the pop and other beverages were. After selecting a bottle of Coke each, they slowly wandered up the aisles, glancing side to side at the products that lined the shelves. Kashi quietly snuck up behind them and popped out at them.
"And here I have a wonderful bag of salt and vinegar chips, only a dollar and forty-nine cents. And if you lovely ladies would be so kind as to buy this bag for a hungry, growing teenage boy, I'm sure he would be ever so kind as to share some of the chips with you," Kashi pleaded, holding the bag aloft in a very advertising way. Cao and Ver looked at each other and sighed in unison.
"No Kashi, use your own money," Cao replied.
"But I don't have any money!"
"Then where is your paycheck going?" Ver asked snidely, setting her pop and a chocolate bar on the counter of the till. Kashi dropped his gaze and shifted his weight.
"Elsewhere," he replied softly. Ver threw both of her arms up in the air and pushed open the door to wait for her two friends outside. Cao looked back at Kashi after letting her eyes follow Ver out the door. His eyes had widened and the presence of tears, however fake, could be seen. He was trying the famous puppy-eyes technique.
"Alright, I'll buy them for you. But not because of the puppy-eyes, only because you're a friend and I'm being extremely nice to you right now. But you have to leave Ver alone about her notes," Cao conceded, holding out one hand for the bag of chips. She handed a five-dollar bill to the old man at the till and handed the chips back to Kashi as she received her change and the receipt.
Ver stood outside the door with a slice of pizza already in her hands. Asking Ver to hold her pop, Cao vanished into the pizza place and returned a minute later with her own piece of barbecue chicken pizza, the parlor's specialty. As she took her pop back from Ver, a strong gust of wind caught Cao's hair and threw it into the air wildly. Ver was having similar problems with her own black hair.
"Looks like it's going to rain soon," Cao commented, noticing the gathering black clouds above their heads. Not even a second after she said that the dams in the sky opened their floodgates and poured water down on the earth below, drenching them instantly.
"You jinxed it!" Kashi cried, running for the cover of the overhanging ledge of the little shop.
"I did not! I was just stating the obvious!" Cao retorted, heading for the dry spot after him. Ver followed them silently.
"It's no one's fault. We were just outside at the wrong time. If we have any luck, this'll just be a cloud burst and we'll be able to head back to the school in a few minutes," Ver interrupted, as Kashi was about to shoot another accusation at Cao.
Ver was right. A few minutes later, the rain trickled to a stop and the sun broke through the cloud cover triumphantly. A rainbow leapt from one cloud to another as the dark shadows fled from the bright glow of the afternoon sun. The three of them left the shelter of the overhang and began walking back towards the school to finish the day.
- - -
The weather for the next few weeks was just a wacky as it had been that afternoon at the pizza place. Rain would come and go in the blink of an eye, dumping as much water on the unsuspecting people below as it possibly could in that short amount of time. Tornadoes were sighted quite frequently and earthquakes, just little ones at the moment, would rumble through at least once a day. Some of the communities in the large city actually got meters of snow, while their neighbours a few blocks over were enjoying balmy summer-like weather. The meteorologists were completely stumped as to how the current weather patterns could actually exist and started proclaiming that the end of the world was near before slinking under the media, never to be heard from again.
The weather made attending school more interesting. Classes would constantly be interrupted as an earthquake announced its presence by rattling pencils, binders and textbooks off the desks. Winds sounding like a train would drown out the teacher occasionally, as the students dove under their desks, expecting a tornado to rip through the window at any moment. Snow would dump itself on the school grounds and snowball fights would break out instantaneously. The teachers had given up on controlling the outbreak and instead retreated into the school to protect themselves from the flying projectiles. After an hour however, the snow would disappear and leave puddles and mud behind in its wake.
Cao was one of the few who didn't rush outside at the first sight of snow; she didn't like the cold and wet snow any more than she liked going to the dentist to get a cavity filled. Kashi and Si were the only ones of her close friends that actually went outside on every opportunity that they got; they always came into third block soaking wet. On the cold days, Cao and the rest of her friends would take over a corner of the commons and play cards or just talk with each other.
On one particularly cold day, Cao made her way from her locker in the hall to the corner they had chosen to meet at today. When she rounded the corner, Shin, Mei and Chigai were already sitting there, four piles of pattern cards already dealt out face down, waiting to be picked up. Cao took her seat and they started to play Cheat.
"Oi, that's cheat on you Shin," Chigai said after the first few rounds. Shin flipped over the cards and smiled.
"Nope, I played the right cards. Pick'em up Chi," Shin replied smugly, pushing the pile towards Chigai, who pouted and organized her cards into her hand.
"I hate this weather," Mei stated, blowing her hair out of her eyes and placing her cards on the pile. "Two threes."
"I don't like it either. It's too weird, even for me," Cao replied. Shin nodded, placing her cards on the pile and announcing the cards.
"I wish we could just zip off to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, where it's bound to be warmer," Shin agreed. "Wouldn't that be great?"
"That would be nice, but according to the news, the whole world is suffering under this weird weather. All the weather guys have gone crazy and just dropped off the radar," Chigai answered, laying down her last card. Mei called cheat, but Chigai had been honest. The game was over. As everyone was piling their cards into a pile, the bell rang and they took off to their afternoon classes, with warmer, normal weather on their minds.
- - -
The year continued as normally as it could with the weather out of synch. Old and new excuses were being used to explain why a piece of homework wasn't done on time, and some students used the trend of faking sick to skip school on the day of a unit exam. The first semester came to a quick close after a blizzardy Christmas and an unusually warm New Year; bringing final exams to all the high school students. With students passing or failing, the new semester began, with new excuses being used again.
About a month into the new semester, during a not-so-surprising blizzard that swept through the afternoon, Cao was in her car driving home from school. The heater was pouring out heat and the stereo pumped out her favorite CD as she drove down the quiet suburban street towards her home. She stopped at stop sign and sighed. The backpack in the seat next to her was almost bursting at the seams; she had a lot of homework to do that night. As she pulled into the intersection and turned the steering wheel to the left, the blizzard around her exploded into a thousand little sparks, erupting into a large fire that engulfed the road and her car in a single bite. A fiery, glowing heat surrounded her, pulling her attention farther away from the flaming road ahead of her. As she fought with the car on the still icy streets, time seemed to slow to the pace of a snail, softly inching by. In the fire in front of her rose a great shadow in the shape of a winged dragon. It danced like the rest flames, but seemed more alive. In one instance, its dark, fire-filled eyes gazed right at her. All the noise of the world around her fell silent, leaving an eerie emptiness.
:Cao…: a deep, booming voice called into her mind.
It was in that second of time that she lost complete control of her vehicle and went careening into a burning tree. The metal around her became living jaws of fire, slowly closing in on her. The dragon shadow disappeared and with one final cry into the inferno, Cao felt the darkness of unconsciousness close around her.
- - -
Cao's conscience wandered in an endless void of darkness, floating past clips and images of the world her mind had left behind.
"An astounding turning in the weather today has killed two elderly women and left many hospitalized…"
"…strange groups of uniformed individuals have been appearing all over the globe, apparently normalizing the weather patterns and other abnormalities that emerged after the events of last night…"
"Our son, please, not our son!…"
A pinprick of light blinked into existence in the distance of the darkness. Cao felt herself slowly pulled towards it, as if she was being carried on a swiftly flowing current of air. A thought rose to the surface of her mind, bearing the information of various sources stating the light of the afterlife. Cao pushed the thought aside and continued to drift closer to the light that was growing larger. She did not want to think of death at the moment; everything felt too peaceful to interrupt the flow with a thought as dark as that.
An intricate doorframe spun into her vision, as if woven by the threads of the light she had sought. The frame seemed to be living, like a snake twisting itself around tiny pillars of the same light that the snake was made from. The door itself was almost non-existent, just a thin, wavering curtain of light that swayed in an uncertain breeze flowing from behind it. As Cao reached forward as if to push it open, the curtain opened on its own accord, lightly sweeping itself away to the side. The brightness inside spilled into the dark void and Cao smiled as she took a step on the air and entered the doorway.
Cao felt herself falling, but was too blinded by the intensity of the brilliant light that filled the space to see what surrounded her. A light wind, the same one that was stirring the curtain, gathered around her and slowed her freefall. As Cao began to regain her sight, the wind had gently set her on a somewhat solid surface. It was strangely soft and tumbled over itself with a simple breath.
Slowly getting to her feet, Cao looked around at the land that now surrounded her. Unlike the void she had fallen from, this world was bright and seemed to reflect and radiate any sort of light. Her vision, still slightly disoriented, blurred the land around her. Shaking her head to clear her sight, a strange and exotic landscape solidified in front of her. The soft surface that she had landed on turned out to be a field of clouds. Cao didn't know how it was possible for her to be standing on a cloud, nor did she care.
Off to her right, a low, sloping hill arose, covered in a cloudy forest. Walking up to the first tree, she placed her hand on it hesitantly, expecting to fall through it. Instead her palm was met by the rough exterior of the tree's bark. The leaves, although they were the same colour as the cloudy carpet, they danced in the wind like normal leaves. Looking into the forest, Cao spotted a glimmer of light reflecting off some hidden surface of water. Following the dancing light, she came to a small pool that was fed by a tall, thin line of water falling from somewhere above the trees. Walking around to the base of the smoothly falling water, Cao gazed upwards for the source of the waterfall. As her eyes reached the origin of the water, she stumbled backwards and dropped into the cloudy lawn, sending white wisps in every direction.
Directly above her, casting a great shadow onto the forest where she now sat, was a giant chunk of land that floated without any means of support. A stream cascaded over the side of the island in the sky, falling gently into the small pool below in the clouds. To startle her further, a vast body of water covered the entire horizon, like an ocean in the sky. It was as if this entire world had been flipped over without anything losing its original place. Shadows of whales and other large sea creatures could be seen drifting close to the surface of the large ocean, waves and whitecaps scored the entirety of the massive body.
Cao was completely baffled by the strangeness of the layout of the world she had been brought into by the door. Although she had yet to meet anything that seemed to have a mind of its own, she felt as if the whole world had a conscience of its own, like a giant, sleeping beast. Sooner or later, she figured that she would meet something that was more alive that the land. It turned out to be sooner.
"Welcome to Solitude," said a voice from behind her. Cao jerked involuntarily and leapt from where she sat in the clouds. She grabbed a fallen branch from the base of one of the trees and swung around to defend herself against the intruder. The owner of the voice was tall, built man, with long brown hair that looked as if it had never been cut. His eyes, filled with the wisdom gained from thousands of years, were a startling blue, almost electric. For as much as he looked normal, there was a sense of divinity that surrounded him. Like the beast of the world that encircled them listened to his every call and demand.
Slightly panicked, she swung the branch at the man as hard as she could, trying to get him to back away and leave her alone. The last thing she needed at the moment was some stranger attacking her in a world that was unknown to her. He simply chuckled and dodged the stick as though it was a butterfly fluttering by without a care in the world. Lowering his head, he raised his left hand and everything stopped. Cao was unable to move anything except her eyes, which moved wildly back and forth. The man made a flicking motion with his right hand and the stick flew out of Cao's hand and landed in the clouds by his feet. As he slowly walked forward, stepping over the prostrate branch without so much as glance downwards, Cao's conscience froze. When he came within reach, his wild blue eyes diving into her more docile sapphires, she managed to rip herself out of the invisible hold he had had on her. Rolling away from him, she seized the branch again and turned to face him again, branch high above her head. Without giving him a chance to react to her sudden escape, she brought the stick down on his head; or, as she found out, through his head instead.