Are you going to tell him, Sandra? I will Moonshadow! Give me time!
Are you going to tell him, Sandra?
I will Moonshadow! Give me time!
The stallion snorted.
Moonshadow was a dark guardian over Sandra. She leaned against his leg as if he could protect her from all the evil in the world, and he dropped his muzzle enough for him to lift her scent into his nostrils.
The image of the horse protecting the young woman would forever remain in TJ's mind. He had pulled up without being noticed since the rain hadn't stopped, and nothing could be heard over it. He'd seen the light off in the barn, but he'd known she was there when he'd heard Moonshadow snort.
Why she was there, he didn't know. All he knew was that in the darkness he could see the perfect thing to draw, and he knew at once the reason he had brought his sketchbook. He sketched quickly and the sound of the pencil scratching the paper went unheard over the sound of the rain.
He was just starting to sketch the last of the finer details when Sandra noticed he was there. She looked in his direction and said, "You can come in you know."
He stared at her in surprise. "How'd you know I was here?" he asked.
She smiled. "I have my ways."
He put his sketchbook down and opened the door. The sound made Goldie snort and roll in her stall across the way. TJ froze for a second and only came in when Sandra said, "Don't worry. She's still asleep."
"Why are you in the barn?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I couldn't sleep. The bruises are finally going away and my hands are as good as new."
He nodded. "That's good."
"It has been three weeks, TJ. Are you ever going to tell me what that letter said?" She had noticed how TJ had become more distant toward her; even more so than when she'd told him she wouldn't go out with him – not teasing her at all. She almost felt sad that he had changed toward her that much.
"Don't act like you don't know what I am talking about. The letter came the same day that I came home… Three weeks ago, TJ. I saw it coming."
"What do you mean you saw it?"
She shook her head. "This will sound crazy, but I saw it flying on the wind."
He grinned and ducked his head even though he knew she couldn't see him smiling. "That doesn't sound crazy Sandra," he said. "It's the way letters travel between Camaria and here. They go through a window between the two worlds, and then they come on the wind to my window; I read them, and I know what is going on where I come from."
She sat up. "Where is Camaria?" she asked. He noticed how her voice was light as a feather but heavy with curiosity.
TJ sighed. "It's another world from Earth entirely, so you won't find it on any map. The drawing that was in my sketchbook – the mamooth – it comes from Camaria. I didn't make it up."
"So Camaria is the magic world's name…" Sandra mused. She frowned.
"I know a lot of things that you wish I'd tell you TJ," she said with a grin.
He shook his head. In the darkness, he noticed that there were tearstains on Sandra's face. "You've been crying," he said.
"Yes," she said. She didn't hide the fact, and she didn't act like she didn't know how TJ had known.
"Why?" he asked. She began crying afresh.
He felt her emotions then as if they were his own.
Innocence lost. Pain. Regret. Lies. Loss.
He even sensed her anger and felt it burn him inside out.
He reached through the space between them and touched her cheek with gentle fingers. He had to struggle against all of his insanity not to wrap his arms around her and kiss away her tears. "Sandra, stop crying. You'll cry yourself a river, and it'll swell and flood us out."
He didn't know where the words came from. They were a mere whisper on the wind. He had taken the powerful gust from the wind outside and tamed it into a musical sound, a sweet song on the eve of fear and pain. Gentle, loving, a refuge from the hurt he felt within her.
She felt the power in his words, the sweetness in them, and they brought a little comfort, enough that she sighed.
She looked at him in the darkness, and he felt himself melt in those hazel eyes. "Why are you crying?" he asked.
She frowned. "You are going away, aren't you?" she asked, ignoring his question, yet answering it at the same time.
"I don't know," he lied, shaking his head.
She let out a low laugh, but it was bitter. "I am crying because you have changed toward me… and you won't let me in."
He stared at her. "I didn't know you wanted me to."
She smiled and reached for him, pulling him to her and letting her hands roam over his face in the darkness until she found his mouth. Then she kissed him. It was sweet and gentle, and yet… TJ sensed there was more to it then even the simple friendship she had promised him and made him promise in return.
"Moonshadow wants me to tell you something," she whispered into the darkness.
"What is it?"
She sighed and pulled away from him, sitting cross-legged in the straw. TJ followed her example.
"There is much to be said during our little rain spatter that can't be said at another time, least someone overhear me."
TJ looked at her, waiting.
"I have hidden my… uh… gift for four years now. It started the moment that Moonshadow was born and continued to grow stronger as we grew older together. It was only him at first, and then our mare Goldie who is very heavy in foal with twins I hear. After that it was Buzz and Wood, Karl's barn cats. Now, it's the vulture and Zip too. It was the complicated rhyming and rather amusing words of Buzz and Wood that told me I needed to keep it secret. It's no secret that I have a bond with animals. What is, is that I have the bond because of my ability to understand them. Call it a Dr. DooLittle thing."
The first letter mentioned that the one magic user who was most dangerous had had their powers for four years and had learned to control them. It isn't hard to control the fact that you can hear animals. The newest letter says this same person injured a human with the gain of new powers. That is Sandra through and through.
The first letter mentioned that the one magic user who was most dangerous had had their powers for four years and had learned to control them. It isn't hard to control the fact that you can hear animals.
The newest letter says this same person injured a human with the gain of new powers. That is Sandra through and through.
"I have a bond with any and all animals, which is why I can't watch them die, why I am so worried about complications in Goldie's pregnancy. I can hear their words, taste their fear. I can communicate with animals in a way that no person could ever believe, TJ!"
Moonshadow snorted, shaking his head with a chuckle. You sound like a crazy person, Sandra.
She turned to Moonshadow in the darkness. I am not trying to sound crazy! I need him to understand that's all!
"I understand Sandra. You can talk to animals. You're an…"
"Animal speaker? Yes, but do you get how I know if no one else knows that I am?"
He had no answer for this. There was no way Karl would tell her without finding out. "Karl knows?" he asked.
She nodded. "He found out a couple of months ago. He didn't explain anything to me though. I proved to him that I knew enough on my own."
"Then I don't know, Sandra."
She grinned. "That's where my thieving abilities come in. Has anyone ever explained to you what it is that I steal?"
He shook his head. "No."
"I steal books. Not just old and used like my copy of The Black Stallion or even Legend, but expensive books… old books that are worth millions of dollars."
TJ shook his head. He was following what she was saying, but he just couldn't see how stealing books was a crime. He didn't believe that there was a book worth a million dollars. Books weren't expensive. Why steal them?
"I have yet to be caught with the one that mentions Camaria, without ever saying a name. You may know of it, The Five Magics written by Larcion?"
He stared at her with wide eyes. There was only one copy of Larcion's book and that had been lost from Camaria for many years. "You have the one and only copy of The Five Magics?"
She nodded. "I found it in an antique shop actually. I don't know what drove me to go inside, but as soon as I found it, I knew the book had called to me. I picked it up and left without ever paying the hundred million dollars it was worth. The shopkeeper never even noticed that I had come in and left. It was as if I had never been there. It was as if with magic!"
He shook his head. "I still can't believe you have that book of all books."
She grinned. "Want to see it?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Not in this weather, and I am too comfortable to move. Plus you seem to have more to tell me. I'll see it later."
She shrugged and leaned back. He had never noticed that she had leaned forward.
"What I discovered from this book was that there were five magics at the beginnings of time: fire hunting, water bearing, nature healing, wind chasing, and spirit calling. Now there are only four. Water bearing and nature healing have intertwined so much that they are now just called nature bearing. I bet you know that story.
"Anyway, what I discovered was that of the five, fire hunting was the rarest, seen in only one of every thousand magic children. I also learned that there are many sub forms to all the powers, but that spirit callings was the most common as well as the next rarest. It has hundreds of sub forms and everyone contains at least one form of it, unless they are mute, for the ability to communicate in any language is a form of spirit calling."
If she's trying to impress me with her knowledge, it's working.
If she's trying to impress me with her knowledge, it's working.
"But even the bloodlines don't run true anymore. The sub forms of today are half what they used to be. Animal speakers, like myself, can only speak to a couple of species of animals and animal healers, like Karl, must use tools of science to enhance their magic."
TJ leaned back so that he rested on his elbows, looking at her.
"There are true bloodlines though and they run through four people. One of them is yourself, TJ, because you are a Mage. The other three are Candallas, Pyressa, and Astroeese."
TJ stared at her. Karl had been right! She had known more than he had. He had only known that his own was a pure bloodline because of Karl. He had only known that Candallas was one. "Maria Candallas and Dusty Pyressa are purebloods," he mused.
She nodded. "That's right. I have always known this. I know that Dusty's hair has changed color because she is gaining her powers. She is a fire hunter."
TJ's eyes widened. "Really?" he asked. He fell back with his hands behind his head. "I have never met a fire hunter before."
Sandra chuckled. "She doesn't realize it, but I think that's why she was sick. She is beginning to discover her powers and one of the consequences is the fever she had."
"That makes sense."
"I know. Maria carries the line of nature bearing. That is why she can grow plants really well in the dead of winter, and I can't even make them grow in the spring."
He sat up and looked at her. "You are a Harris though. Who is the Astroeese?" he asked.
She smiled. "I am," she said. She seemed to sense his confusion. "If I had taken my mother's last name after she and my dad had gotten a divorce, I wouldn't be a Harris. My middle name, Astra, derives from my mother's maiden name, Astroeese."
Thunder created a drum roll as TJ stared at Sandra. Even though she couldn't see in the gloom of the barn, she seemed to sense his surprise not his confusion. She turned to Moonshadow. See? I told you I had to explain the long way.
The stallion snorted, which brought TJ back to the present. He ran a hand through his hair. I have been falling for a pureblood! I never would have guessed!
"Those four bloodlines are supposed to be the most powerful and they don't have to be taught to use their power. They are just born knowing how to do it."
"Did you know how to talk with the wind? How to calm the gusts?" she asked.
He thought back to how he'd grown up. Now that she mentioned it, he hadn't; his father had taught him. "No," he said, knowing she couldn't see him shaking his head.
"That's what I thought. The truth of the matter is that it is a myth. They have to learn just like everyone else. They aren't born with any special knowledge on the use of their powers, only the knowledge that they are there, and sometimes not even that. I wasn't born knowing that I was going to begin talking to animals when I turned thirteen."
"I knew, but I wasn't born knowing. Both my parents were wind chasers and their parents before them. I knew because they told me and I started gaining my abilities when I was ten."
"Have you gotten your Magic License?"
He shook his head and looked down. "No. This was supposed to be my last assignment. I was supposed to find and bring back the three new magic users. But now they are calling me back." He looked up and grinned. "They don't know your background but they know you gained new powers and used them to hurt Samual."
She cringed at the mention of his name, and her hand went to her side where the knife wound had been. She still walked stiff as a board sometimes because of it. "I didn't mean to hurt him," she said softly.
"Remember though, it wasn't you that actually hurt him."
"No?" she asked. "You can't prove that. No one can. Moonshadow says my powers are growing, and I don't know what I did that day."
"What do you mean you don't know?" he asked.
"Moonshadow and I were both glowing but we weren't aware of any changes, so we don't know what happened or why we were glowing."
She looked down and away for a moment. "Samual deserved what he got though. We are even now."
"Are you?" TJ asked.
She looked up at him. "I believe so."
He frowned. "Well I don't. I think he deserves a lot more than a black eye and a couple of broken bones."
Sandra chuckled. "I still want to see Moonshadow's handiwork. I have no idea how much damage he did, or how bad it looks."
"It was enough that he wasn't able to walk away, and if I have heard right from certain people, he won't for a while."
She sighed. "Sometimes I wish I had kept Moonshadow away from him. I didn't really try to stop him even though I knew I could. Oh well, what's done is done, and I will live with it."
TJ saw how she didn't feel any pain or remorse. "Do you miss him?" he asked in a low voice.
She looked up at him in surprise, but she quickly looked down and fiddled with a piece of straw with a sigh. "Sometimes… He wasn't always abusive. We were fine together for a good long while. And then he met beer." She looked away. "Beer tears people apart – changes them. I hope never to touch a drink in my life."
He looked at her. "I don't think it can," he said.
She laughed. "Yeah, it can. It changed my mom. She's not violent, but she didn't know she had a daughter – much less two – after she'd had several drinks. Samual turned abusive when he started drinking, and you…" She looked at him. "You seem to hide pain beneath your alcohol problem."
He stared at her. "You're right. I do, but now is not the time to talk about that."
Sandra understood and asked no more on that topic. TJ was tempted to break the silence and ask her if she had meant anything in her kissing him, but she seemed to understand his question without hearing it. She reached across the distance between them and touched his cheek with soft hands. In the darkness, she closed her eyes and let her hands explore his face until the tips of her fingers found his mouth. She leaned forward and looked him in the eyes. "I don't know if I can handle being just friends," he whispered to her.
She nodded but said nothing as she kissed him. He felt her sigh against his mouth when they pulled apart, but he wasn't ready for it to end there. He pulled her close to him in a hug and took her overnight shirt off her shoulders – throwing it out of his way. He let his hands roam over her stomach in soft caresses. She was still sore from her last beating and then the knife wound wasn't fully healed. He was gentle in all manners except his mouth, kissing her lips, her neck, and her throat with a fever. She answered his kisses with soft moans and leaned back until they fell back in the straw of Moonshadow's stall.
Sandra winced in pain as her wound troubled her, and she tried hard not to let TJ notice, but he did. He froze instantly and stared down at her. "Did I hurt you?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No." She said softly and kissed him, but the moment had passed. TJ held her close and would not let her go anywhere too far away, but they didn't take their kisses any further. Sandra let her head fall against his chest and listened to his heart strum a beat with a rhythm all its own. TJ pulled her overnight shirt over them as a kind of blanket, which made her chuckle slightly.
They were silent as they lay awake and listened to the drumming of the rain on the roof and Moonshadow's rhythmic breathing of sleep.
The rain came down slower, a steady beating of a drum – of a heartbeat, Sandra noticed, TJ's heartbeat. She smiled at the thought. It was a sign, although neither the wind chaser nor animal speaker knew it yet.