The Story You Shouldn't Know
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~It is said that when the wolves howl and the donkeys bray for no reason, it is because they have seen the devil. The greatest evil there ever was.~
~We all have choices. But our decisions are already known.~ Evil Star.
~Whatever happened to the values of humanity? Whatever happened to the fairness and equality? Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity, lack of understanding leading us away from unity.~ The Black Eyed Peas.
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Fifteen Years Ago, Marcus Romanian's School for the Unusually Gifted
The current headmistress of Marcus Romanian's School for the Unusually Gifted had not always been this severe. Or at least, most people assumed so. After all, she must have been a child herself once upon a time. And children don't usually wear their hair cropped cheek-length short and then pinned back until it lay like a helmet on their heads. And children have been known to laugh, another thing the headmistress was not really fond of doing. And most of all, children do not walk around enforcing rules with an extendable pointer that doubled as a cane.
Which was most probably what led people to believe that the headmistress had not always – or at least, been born – this severe. Something along the line had turned her into that.
This was actually untrue. The Headmistress (for she was known with no other name except to a select few) had always, always been this way. Ever since she had learned to talk, and God knew how long ago that was. She was, in her own way, one of a kind.
She sat now at her desk in her cold office, frowning as she shuffled through papers. Her mind was buzzing as she calculated school fees, and then teacher salaries, and then her own salary. One of a kind as she may be, she was still a Headmistress. Her mind rarely drifted from two trains of thought – money (her salary) and making students' lives miserable (what earned her that salary). She continued frowning as she tucked a limp strand of hair that had come undone and shuffled the papers some more. Her office was very cold and her leather chair made it even colder. That was the thing about leather; when it was cold the leather was colder and when it was hot the leather was hotter.
She would have continued in this fashion for quite a while had not a faint cry from outside interrupted her. She paused, her back stiffening as she listened and then there it was again: her sharp ears caught the low, but distinct, "Headmistress!"
She stood up with an irritated sigh, her cold leather chair scraping the uncarpeted floor as she pushed it back, and glanced at herself quickly in the mirror to make sure she was presentable (she was; her short greying hair pinned back firmly, her blue eyes cold and stern in her square face, her clothes crisp on her skeletal frame) before heading for the front door.
She opened it and stepped outside carefully. It was a cold night, no moon, very dark. The stars were the brightest thing in the otherwise pitch-blackness; she could barely see the outline of the treetops of the forest opposite the school by their light.
And then, as she flicked on the light by the elegant front door, she saw who had called her out.
It was a painfully thin woman, somewhere in her mid-twenties. She was pale, with large dark eyes that were only more pronounced by her excessively white palor and fair hair. She wasn't particularly beautiful, not even pretty – but she was something special. Her expression was strangely serene and radiated kindness, despite her ragged, exhausted appearance.
"What is it?" demanded the Headmistress sharply. If she felt any sympathy for the woman, she hid it well.
"You are the Headmistress, no?" asked the woman quietly. Her voice was soft but urgent – the tone of someone who wanted to get to the point and desperately get it over with. "I have been asking for someplace ... someplace for special people. They told me to look here."
"This is Marcus Romanian's School for the Unusually Gifted," answered the Headmistress matter-of-factly. "If you are special, we will find a place for you here. Here, nobody is special. Because everyone is."
"I see," said the woman slowly. She shifted uncomfortably and for the first time the Headmistress noticed the bundle in her arms. "Well, I have a ... not quite a favour, but a request, to ask of you."
"It's my daughter," said the woman, and for the first time a note of desperation crept into her voice. "She is special. Very special. She will be the most special student you could ever have – and the most remarkable. I wish ... well, you see, I've not much to live. I think – I know – that my time is soon. Very soon, and my daughter is still less than a year old. She ... she will not have a mother. I have no family, and I cannot leave her just anywhere, because you see, she is not just anyone. As I said, she is too special. You are my last hope. You will be able to understand her, nurture her and help her ... "
"Show me the child," said the Headmistress crisply. There was no beating about the bush with her. The woman's expression flickered in the orange light, and slowly she held out the bundle of blankets, pulling on one tenderly to reveal her baby daughter.
The Headmistress heard a sharp intake of breath and was surprised to realize it was hers.
The child was remarkable indeed. She was the most beautiful child the world had ever seen, the Headmistress realized numbly. But it went deeper than that. Her mother was right. This child was special.
The baby was less than a year old but it smiled at the Headmistress directly, aware of what was happening in a vague, indistinct way. She was so very beautiful; her very skin glowed. And then her eyes. Oh, her eyes. Framed with thick, dark, long lashes, they were the brightest vivid violet one could ever hope to see. And then the baby blinked. Another intake of breath.
When the child's eyes opened again they were an equally vivid green.
"She ... she is not human," the Headmistress heard herself say. Already she had been enchanted by the child. "Her eyes – her heritage is more than human. Isn't it?"
The woman smiled sadly. "Perhaps, but it is not permitted for me to say. These are secrets we mortals know not ... or should know not. You see now, when you meddle with such things, they need to remove you from the world of the living ..."
She gestured to herself. The Headmistress understood. The child was only half human, yes, but to meddle with such things would lead a human to their death. She would never know.
The woman gestured again, this time heavenwards.
Deceased, the Headmistress understood by herself again.
"What do you want?"
"I need you to provide her with a place to live until she is old enough to attend your school. I can pay the fees now."
"I'm afraid our fees are rather exorbitant ... far too expensive for – "
"I have money," the woman cut her off. "Money is no matter. I will pay for her entire schooling in advance – I will pay double if you just take care of her ..."
"There is no need," she was almost back to her senses. The Headmistress in her realized the value of this child as a student attending her school. The humane part in her (which many would have been surprised to know existed in the first place) realized what the woman was asking and wanted to help. "It will not be costly to take care of her. She can live with some of our teachers' children – "
"No," interrupted the woman again. "Perhaps it is better that she learns to fend for herself from an early age. I would like you, as a death wish, to set her up to live there."
She was pointing at the forest. The Headmistress went pale.
"It is a dangerous place," she choked out. Coming from someone who figuratively tortured students as a habit, that was saying something. "Our school – it has never been normal. And neither is that forest. There are unnatural creatures inhabiting it ... and even without them, there are sightings of bears and wolves ..."
"Animals will not present a problem," said the woman gently, but firmly. She was clearly certain. And determined. "My daughter will be more than capable of handling such things. She will have powers and strengths unlike anything you have ever seen before. A forest will be the kindest place for her. It'll be her nature to love the earth, the trees, the animals. She will be fine. Please, trust me. I am a dying woman ... I need to get this straight so I can be at peace ... just – just check up on her every now and then. Make sure she's all right. That's all I ask of you, apart from ensuring her education."
"I will," muttered the Headmistress reluctantly. Even by the school's standards, this was strange.
"Thank you," said the woman fervently. Her dark eyes shone with peace as she relaxed.
"What is her name?"
"Anastasia," said the woman, laughing slightly as the baby gurgled.
"Anastasia what?" asked the Headmistress impatiently, her tone business-like again. Back in her depth.
"Just Anastasia. She has no last name."
"Hm," snorted the Headmistress in disapproval. No last name. Shocking. "I see. Very well, then."
"Thank you," repeated the woman. "Thank you ... so much."
"It's all right. A child like that ... she will have a lot of expectations piled on her when she grows up. She is going to be a phenomenon, isn't she?"
"I don't need her to be," said the woman tenderly. "She will always be special. All I can hope for is that she grows up to be good, and strong, and caring. Like her father."
"I ... er, yes. I suppose. Well, about the money ..." it was a crude subject change but the Headmistress had begun to feel awkward again. And she really had to know.
"Don't worry. I have it – " the woman fumbled with her bundles and rags, taking care not to jiggle Anastasia, and pulled out a neatly marked envelope. The Headmistress took a risk, feeling it would be exceedingly rude and mistrustful, to check and make sure it was all there. She did something she had rarely ever done before – she took a naïve risk, pocketing the money. It wasn't entirely trusting on her part though; if the money was not all there it would be the woman's daughter suffering anyway. She nodded at the woman, briskly.
With great care, but no hesitation, the woman handed Anastasia, still wrapped in her blankets, to the Headmistress. Her expression remained serene, but she was clearly trying hard to maintain it. Her daughter had been all she had. Now she was giving her life away. But there was no other option; this was her last chance. She had to ensure her daughter's survival, and hopefully, happiness.
"I love you, Anna," she whispered softly, kissed her daughter, and then finally let go. The Headmistress attempted to smile reassuringly but her facial muscles had never tried it before so instead she nodded again as comfortingly as she could.
The woman smiled as she turned to leave. She looked back once, her eyes fixed on the baby Anastasia, and then finally she was too far away for the flickering orange light to make her out. She walked still further away, melting into the darkness.
She was never seen again.
It was only several hours later, as the Headmistress thought it all through with some wonder, that she realized she had never asked for her name.
Nine Years Ago, Around Marcus Romanian's School for the Unusually Gifted
Anastasia woke up with a start.
She was now a healthy, intelligent six-year-old, every bit as beautiful as had been predicted, if not more. She was breathing quickly, her bright blue eyes darting from one end of the small room she slept in to the other.
"Hello?" she called out carefully. She lived alone, as her mother had requested. Apart from the usual visits from the Headmistress, and a few encounters with other playmates, she was admirably independent, especially for a six-year-old. But she could have sworn she'd heard something ...
She heard it again. A strange mixture of sounds; somewhere between shuffling, tapping and snuffling. Perhaps a bear had snuck into the house? She pondered. It had happened before.
With impressive courage, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, dressed in stripy pyjamas with Bugs Bunny embroidered on the pocket – bought for her by the Headmistress – and brushing her golden hair out of her face, slipped into her slippers - also Bugs Bunny, also bought by the Headmistress - and started, treading carefully, towards the door. She could hear the snuffling again, louder than ever. Her eyes turned dark with nervousness. She wondered if it could be the Headmistress on a nightly visit, thought to call out and ask, then dismissed the thought. If it wasn't the Headmistress, it would be unwise to shout. Remarkably perceptive for her age, especially since she had never seen a horror movie.
She was inches away from the door when the wooden door, which had been ajar, swung open of its own accord and the creature who had been prowling her house stepped majestically into the room.
Anna screamed. She couldn't help it. Her hand had been at the doorknob only to be snatched back as something huge, white and fanged shocked the life out of her.
It was an enormous, red-eyed wolf.
Anna stopped screaming abruptly. Had the wolf been growling or attacking, it would have been undoubtedly terrifying. But it was just standing there, looking at her curiously. It tilted its head to one side comically and instead of terrifying, Anna thought, in a typically six-year-old girl fashion, it was pretty cute.
"Hi," she said bravely. Her voice was sweet and high, trilling. Very cutesy. Her appearance could have melted the hardest of hearts. "Hello, wolfie."
Anna raised her eyebrows. Growing up with magical powers and supernatural occurences all the time, she took a lot of unusual things for granted. But this was highly unusual. The wolf was speaking without actually opening its mouth. It communicated directly with the brain.
"How did you do that?" she asked with great interest.
I am not an ordinary animal, as you can see. There are many unusual creatures in this forest. I am merely one of them now. I can speak using telepathy. Do you know what telepathy is, child?
"Ye-ah, sure. Headdy told me. Er – it means talking with your mind. She says only certain people can do it though. Are you one of them?"
I am. You, too.
"I know that. I can do loadsa stuff. I'll show you!"
We have plenty of time for that later. But first, my friend, I must learn your name. You must introduce yourself to me, mustn't you?
Anna was thrilled at the words 'my friend'. It was pretty cool to have such a big, cute wolf who could talk calling her 'my friend'. Awesome.
"Oh," she said quickly, as she realized the wolf was waiting for an answer. "My name is Anastasia. Everyone calls me Anna though. What's yours?"
I am known as the White Wolf.
"Cool," said Anna agreeably. "We're gonna have loads of fun together, aren't we? I love you already. You're soooo cute! Has anybody ever told you that?"
The Wolf grimaced. No.
Anna grinned widely. Her eyes were such a bright sky-blue they were glowing with happiness and excitement. Wait till Headdy heard about this!
She reached out, completely fearless, and hugged the astonished Wolf. It wasn't just that she loved animals – it was a natural reaction for her age. She didn't have too many friends yet and she treasured the ones she had. And the Wolf did look remarkably cuddly. To her, he was some sort of wonderful mixture friend-slash-toy with some mystical fortune-cookie language in the middle. He was a dream come true.
After hugging her brand-new friend, she started to step back carefully ... and that was when the Wolf saw the underside of her wrist.
What is that? he enquired.
"Oh." Anna held up her little wrist for him to see. Over the bluish veins you could just make out a faint, glowing mark, undecipherable. "I don't know. I've always had it. Headdy says it's some sort of
birthmark. It's really light though."
She smiled up at him and, overcome with happiness, hugged him again. With her face buried in his soft white fur, she could not see the gleam in his red eyes, or the look of pure anticipation that could barely be made out on his wolfy face. A toothy, happy smile.
And then Anna squeezed too hard and the expression faded as he grimaced again. He had the feeling he would be hugged quite a lot for the next few years of his life.
But he wouldn't mind. It was the start of a long and beautiful friendship.
Anna wrapped her arms around him tightly. She was so small she couldn't even make it all the way around him. Her hand barely reached his rib cage. His fur, so white, glowed even brighter against the mark on her wrist.
Miles and miles and miles away, somewhere very, very hot, another six-going-on-seven-year-old was staring at his own wrist with very green eyes. They changed to blue as he held his wrist up, observing the faint black mark, which looked more like a series of scratches than anything, branded on the inside of his wrist and scowled.
Both of them would soon forget these marks for now. Until the time came.