Chapter One: Introduction
A long time ago a child was born in the magical land of Brosia. That child was born into magic and mystery, and also into a death. It was me. My mother was thrilled to discover she had given birth to a girl, even a strange one at that. My father was an outcast, and my mother was an ani-morph. An ani-morph is a rare, magical being that can turn itself into any living creature. Some had no favoured animal, some had many animals. Others chose one animal to be, and stuck with that animal. My mother was that sort of ani-morph. She favoured a lioness and took that form when the situation called for it. She later became Head Warrior at the Royal Castle. It was there that she met my father, who eventually rebelled against the King and was banished.
But back to me; my mother's name was Nala Kingston and she named me Nkala Kingston. She must have had hopes that I would be an ani-morph, just like she was. But I wouldn't know for sure, because my mother was dying. A few hours after birth, my mother slipped away from the mortal realms. She left me a letter, and though I didn't know it then, it read this: My little Nkala, be good. I wrote this note so that you could remember me, and also remember the advice I am now going to give you: remember little one, never go looking for your father. He is a bad man and will try to kill you if you go to him. You may be a threat to him, and he would not want anyone standing in his way. Please, read my words and think about me, the mother that died to bring you into this world. Remember Nkala, I love you and I always will.
From your mother, Nala.
Chapter Two: Powers
The years disappeared and I was suddenly ten. I had dark brown hair down to my waist and long gangly legs. And I was ready to read the note. The orphanage lady was the sweet, kind-hearted, rather plump Mrs. Johns. She looked after the orphans. She gave the note to me and told me to read it in private. So I did. I pondered the part about my father for a bit, then put the letter down as my stomach rumbled. I went downstairs and was almost immediately confronted by Joe Bailey, my best friend. He was tall, just like me and had short sandy-coloured hair. He had bright blue eyes just a fraction darker than mine, and all the kids loved him because he was nice and always stood up to them against the school bullies.
"Did you read it?" he said knowing where I had been. I nodded,
"Yeah. It just said a bunch of stuff about my dad, you know, the outcast one, and then she just said some mum sorta stuff," I replied. He shared one second of compassion for me, then,
"Oh-by the way, look what I can do!" he said. He quickly turned around and the stone statue behind him sprung to life and sprinted away down the hall, only to smash into a wall and have its head knocked off. As its head started rolling towards us, he showed me what other cool things he could do with his power. His dad had been a great wizard and he had inherited his power. Joe had been doing magic since he was six. The first thing he did when he found his power was set the small garden in the yard alight. It had taken three fully matured sorcerers to put out the blaze. Ever since then he had to have a tutor in magic. He was watched over all the time until the tutor told the orphanage that he could be trusted. He was allowed to help with the chores, but he had to use as little magic as possible because most of the others hadn't got their powers yet.
Now that they were ten most of the others were starting to get their powers. Some children were starting to make things come to life just like Joe. Others were only beginning so were under strict surveillance as unexpected outbursts of magic were not uncommon. It was a well known fact in Brosia that children of sorcerers and magicians get their abilities any time from six to ten.
Only one child had not gotten their powers yet: me. I walked around watching all the other children have their lessons in the classrooms. I didn't have to attend them because I didn't have any powers. All the other children were sorcerers. Trying to control my loneliness wasn't easy. It sometimes weighed down on me more than other days mostly because I never saw anybody anymore. They were always in their lessons or practising their magic. Suddenly feeling overwhelmingly alone, I burst into tears and sobbing quietly, ran up the stairs. I couldn't see for tears, and I ran into the last person I wanted to see: Mrs. Johns.
"Oh! My dear, what's wrong?" she asked when she saw that I was crying.
"Everybody has powers except me. What's wrong with me?" I asked Mrs. Johns, and I was embarrassed when a pleading tone edged into my voice.
"Nothing! You have powers; you're just a late bloomer, love,"
"But why? Have I got different powers to the others? Why? Was my mother different too?" I asked, the pleading tone getting stronger. I was so desperate for information.
"The reason you are a late bloomer is because your mother was a late bloomer. She was also an orphan and she got her powers a week after she turned eleven. You will too. You just wait. You're father was a very powerful person. He had two powers, so it just depends on whether or not you will get one or the other, or both," replied Mrs. Johns.
"What were his powers?"
"I don't think I should tell you," said Mrs. Johns, patting my shoulder and walking cheerily off. I looked after her and sighed. When would I find my power?
Chapter Three: Discovery
Two months passed and I was turning eleven. I was the fifth oldest in the orphanage and the second smartest. Malcolm, the smartest kid in school, was despised by everyone. He made it look like no-one else was anywhere near as smart as him. He didn't show up for the party. He was probably in his room practicing his magic on his only friend: a large hamster called Bran. Everyone was milling in the middle of the room but when I walked in, everyone started screaming. Quite shocked myself, I asked, "What's wrong?" but their screams only got louder. I glanced around and saw a mirror placed conveniently on the wall. I walked over, and yelped in shock as I saw a tiger staring back at me. But even as I watched the tiger features rippled then seemed to melt and there I was, pale white and scared-looking.
"WOW! You're an ani-morph!" yelled a child in one of the lower classes, "they're really rare!"
"What?" I said, not really listening, still staring at my pale reflection.
"Deary, you've found your powers!" exclaimed Mrs. Johns, smiling at me.
A few of the children clapped, and soon everyone joined in.
"Yay, congratulations, Nkala!" yelled Joe.
Everyone cheered even louder and I felt as if a part of me that had been missing had fallen into place. I had a power!
"Your mother was an ani-morph," a whisper in my ear made me jump. I looked around and saw Mrs. Johns standing there looking at me with teary eyes. I looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back at me and then she gripped me in a bone-crushing hug. As I gasped for breath, I looked over at Joe and made a strangled face. He laughed, and turned away to grab some chips off the table behind him.
Well, a while passed and all of the children in the orphanage had passed their magic exams, even me. Only I had to take different exams to the others. Now I could change into nearly anything I wanted as long as it was living. I couldn't turn into a pebble or a hat. But I could turn into anything just by thinking about it. I could fly when I turned into a bird, but I couldn't fly very far because summer and spring were hunting seasons and there were poachers and hunters everywhere. I was confined to the grounds and I could only use my powers during school hours. Sometimes when I needed to go to the bathroom at night and matron wouldn't let me; I would fly through the window in the bathroom, (which was kept open) and go to the bathroom very sneakily indeed.
Malcolm had passed his exams with a higher grade than anyone had ever got and had been skipped ahead. This was the reason for the happy faces and partying. There were kids running around, screaming as multiple objects whizzed, zoomed and flew past, nearly taking their ears off. The hallways were complete chaos. There were children running, yelling and everything was scattered on the floor. The kids were doing magic when not allowed and there were things jumping up and down, paintings were zooming along hallways, everlasting paper-planes whizzed along, poking people in the eyes, and there were honks and booms and bells and whistles as everything in the orphanage seemed to spring to life. Statues were dancing with suits of amour that lined the ancient orphanage walls, paintings were moving around in their portraits, some of the animals were speaking English, and all the while the teachers were rushing around trying to restore peace.
The next day Malcolm left to go to a high school, and live with foster parents, and the chaos ended. The teachers went around fixing everything. The statues were turned back so that they weren't jumping into anyone when they passed. And me? I kept a low profile, practicing my morphing abilities whenever I got the chance. It was so brilliant to soar out a window at look down on my home when it was shrouded in shadow and illuminated by the feeble moonlight. But when I got to the hall to try out some bigger animals, and found that even thinking about an elephant made me dizzy, I gave it up, and when I got to it, fell into bed, exhausted.
The next day, I asked my tutor about it. He seemed angry that I had tried to transform when I wasn't allowed but he told me anyway.
"The reason you can't turn into an elephant yet is because you are not strong enough,"
"What d' ya mean?" I asked.
The teacher, being an ani-morph, told me to stand back. I pressed myself against the wall. He shut his eyes and turned into an elephant. As he turned back I said, "But why I can't do it?"
"When an ani-morph reaches the age of thirteen, just like sorcerers, they reach their full potential, and are able to harness all aspects of their gifts. You, only being eleven, cannot do this, therefore, you cannot turn into an elephant," Mr Berns answered,
"Oh. Ok" I replied.
"You cannot turn into anything larger than a small lion before the age of thirteen,"
"Thirteen? But that's still ages away!" I exclaimed.
"Then you will just have to wait. I too, had to wait until I was thirteen before I could take the shape of an elephant,"
I turned to go and he said after me "Do not try it again," something in his voice sounded different, and it made me promise to myself that I would never do it again.
Chapter Four: Classes
About a week, maybe two weeks later, I had a minor exam. It went perfectly until they asked me to turn into a rhino. I thought back to the day before when Mr. Berns told me not to try turn into anything bigger than a lion.
"I'm waiting," the voice of the lady that was taking my exam broke into my thoughts.
"Um- my tutor says I haven't reached the stage where I can turn into anything bigger than a lion,"
"I see. Well, if you can't turn into anything bigger than a lion then turn into an ant,"
I thought about an ant and I felt myself slowly shrinking to the size of an ant. I looked down at my feet. I no longer had two legs; I had six and a pair of mandibles.
"Well done darl. For most young ani-morphs like you, the ant is the hardest to picture in the mind so they cannot physically turn into it. They usually end up looking like a mutated cross between an ant and a spider. Quite horrible really," I gave her the ant equivalent of a smile, but she seemed to understand and smiled back down at me: she really was quite huge.
I returned to my normal form and stood beside the lady to see my grades. I passed everything at an above average level. The lady left and I had the rest of the day off. I went up to my room and pulled out the note.
I read it through a couple of times until I came to the conclusion that my mum was a very good person. I read the part about my father and came to the conclusion that I would heed her advice and stay well away from him. I went back downstairs an hour and a half before dinner. I saw on my way to the currently rainy garden a large group of children all younger than myself, crowding around the notice board talking. I walked up to them.
"What's going on?" I asked them.
"Tony Salantino just got adopted!" explained a child who looked about eight years old.
"Yeah, he's so lucky. No one will ever adopt me," said a very pretty young girl, who had eyes that kept changing colour.
"Don't worry. If I ever get adopted I'll take you in as my little sister," I said kindly.
The little girl only smiled at me and ran off to catch up with her friends. I went up to the classrooms where Joe was sitting listening intently to his teacher Mr. Wilbert Jr. who was a really cool teacher who always seemed to take things from the kids point of view. If a kid was being told off for talking in the hall during lesson times, he would come along and help them out of trouble. I waited outside the door of the classroom to wait for the class to finish, but Mr. Wilbert Jr. had spotted me.
"Please come in, Nkala. You can sit down and listen if you want to or you can wait outside for your friend," he gestured to Joe who was now concentrating on a piece of paper. He muttered a few words under his breath, and the paper folded itself into a plane and took off. He whooped and looked around,
"Oh, hey Nkala," I waved and went inside, sitting at one of the desks. I learnt a whole heap of facts about magic, like if you try to perform a spell that doesn't exist, your fingertips burn until you stick them in milk. Why milk, I had no idea, Mr. Wilbert didn't explain that. Joe just took it in his stride, not bothering to ask questions. I eventually stood, thanked Mr. Wilbert and left.
When Joe finally got out of the classroom, it was three minutes and thirty-two seconds and counting. Cook would give anyone who was even a second late a horrible meal that looked like it was made of the body organs of a small animal.
"Come on! We have to make it to the dining hall or we get "The Slop"!" I said quickly to Joe, using the favoured term for the meal of organs.
"I know. Let's run!" he shot back, his steps already quickening.
"No, we'll get caught! Let's take the shortcut" I said, pointing ahead at a small door and grabbing his sleeve.
We cut across the entrance hall and shot into a side passage. The orphanage had many shortcuts, most of them leading to the kitchens, the dorms and two of them leading to the toilets and bathrooms. We ducked into the low one that led to the kitchens. The passages had other exits and entries long it, but it most directly led to the kitchens.
We came out of the passage in the left corner of the dining hall. We jumped in line and got served a delicious meal of hamburgers and fries. About five minutes after everyone had been served, Tyrone and his two henchmen, Roy and Trae walked in dripping wet, obviously from outside, where it had been pouring rain. And they looked angry.
Chapter Five: Tyrone, Roy and Trae
Tyrone and his buddies were the school bullies. They were the three oldest children there and also the stupidest. They went around stealing everybody's possessions, like their family photos. They always got caught but never by teachers. The owner of those possessions would usually walk in and starting yelling at the top of their voices. The only problem was Roy and Trae would stand by the walls next to the door and whenever someone walked in they would grab them and cover their mouths so they couldn't yell to a teacher. Only once had Trae and Roy made a mistake. They had waited at the door, like usual, and Mrs. Johns walked in. They grabbed her but she had faster reflexes than both of them put together and before they could grab her properly she had both of them with their arms behind their backs and a detention coming their way.
They both got a detention and Tyrone got a week worth of kitchen duties. The detention was way better because all you had to do was sit in a room with no lights and no talking, while in kitchen duties you would have to spend the whole day scrubbing the floors of the bathrooms. Tyrone and his buddies had gotten eleven detentions in three years and Tyrone had been suspended once. When he was suspended he had to go to the office and stay there for one whole week. He had to do extra duties like clean the kitchens with a toothbrush (conveniently, the orphanage had no spares, so his was used). He eventually broke down, apologizing over and over again. He was given a scrubbing brush and a single bucket of water, and told to clean the kitchens. He was then handed a brand new toothbrush.
Now they walked in to the dining hall. They walked in dripping wet and Tyrone growled,
"Anyone gonna get up or are we gonna have to make room for ourselves?" behind him, Roy and Trae cracked their knuckles threateningly. The bullies were obviously in a bad mood. A few kids made to stand up but a voice rang out from the corner cast in shadow, "Sit down," Cook walked out of the shadows holding three bowls of "The Slop" in her hands. She walked up to Tyrone and his buddies and thrust them into their hands.
"Sit down" she said quietly, and menacingly.
The three cowering boys made towards a couple of spare seats they hadn't seen, but Cook yelled again "NOT THERE! HERE!" she pointed at the floor in front of her. The three bullies scurried towards her and sat down where their feet had just been. A loud gasp of surprise sounded as they sat in the large puddle they had left.
"Stop you're whining! You want to be a nuisance, well serves you right!" Cook looked down on the pathetic bundle of bully that was sitting in front of her and shook her head in disgust. She stormed off, muttering something that sounded like "Pathetic little scoundrels".
For the rest of the evening, there was talk about what had happened at dinner. There were rumours going around that the Cook had promised to give the boys "The Slop" everyday, no matter how early they were. No one knew if this was true so I turned into a spider and went to the kitchens. I reached the kitchens and almost immediately heard the voices of Mr. Dabterziker, the owner, and the voice of Cook.
"Oh come on Dabterziker. You know how mean those boys are to the kids. If we punish them good enough they ain't gonna be mean are they?"
"I cannot let you punish these boys. It is unfair and they will end up running away. This has happened before."
"I know. I shouldn't have given that boy that treatment, but he never came back, and the kids were happy. Till that trio got here!"
I sat there in the corner, listening to every word they said. I kept listening and I finally got the answer I needed. They were going to give them the food for the rest of the year that everyone thought was horrible. I went back to my dorm and found the whole of my age level sitting in my dorm.
"What are you all doing here?" I asked
"It kind of, uh, slipped out," said Joe apologetically.
"I have great news. They're going to give them "The Slop" for the rest of the year!" I exclaimed. A great cheer went up and a child up the back yelled "Let's go bully the Bullies! They deserve it!!"
"No! You can't bully them. If you tell them the teachers will know I snuck in there to eavesdrop." I said hurriedly.
"Oh. Ok we won't tell anyone. We pinky swear it," said the kid, whose name was Andrea Zanitiny.
No matter how hard the kids tried not to tell anyone about our discovery, by noon the next day, everyone knew that I had eavesdropped on teachers and they knew the punishment of the older bullies. There were kids whispering and laughing behind their hands and the three bullies were reduced to a group of cowardly boys. They were not seen out of the passageway underneath the hearth rug in the entrance hall. Even though everyone knew where they were, no one bothered them. They missed all of their lessons that week, and at the end of the week, Cook made an announcement.
"Ahem. AHEM! I have an announcement to make. I give up on the bully's punishment and they will get fed whatever you get fed!" yelled Cook.
"What! They'll go back to hurting us and bullying us!" yelled a small kid who was a victim of the non-stop torture.
"I know, but someone eavesdropped on the teacher's discussion and everyone found out about the punishment and the bullies became bullied. And anyway, the owner came by and ordered me to stop this horrid treatment of those three boys in the fear that they would run away from this orphanage," said Cook, looking pointedly at me. All heads turned, and I wished the ground would open and swallow me up.
Chapter Six: Fight
Everyone left the dining hall with heavy hearts. They were all thinking about the thrashing they were going to get when the boys found about their punishments being lifted. Sure enough, standing at the door of the entrance hall was three glowering boys, scowling down at us and advancing on me! The first thing we thought was 'Uh-oh! News travels fast! Run!' a few of the kids bolted and made it to safety. I wasn't one of them. Neither was Joe or Kate Lintenstine, my other friend. A few others stayed but then thought about what they were doing and ran for safety. Soon it was only the three of us up against those three large, furious, boys standing before us.
"Leave us alone!" yelled Kate,
"No! You humiliated us. You told everyone about the punishment and we were humiliated!" yelled back Roy.
"Gee Roy!" yelled Kate, "I didn't know that your peanut-sized brain could hold such big words. Who taught you, your mummy?"
Roy looked around, scowling as he realising what she had said.
"Why you little,-"
"Little what, scoundrel?" yelled Joe.
Tyrone and his glowering pals advanced on me and my pals.
Kate, being an advanced sorcerer, conjured up a shield, ten meters around every way. Tyrone, also being advanced for the reason that he could use magic to harm, walked straight through the shield. His two lesser friends walked shoulder to shoulder and combined their powers, making a small doorway in the shield. They leant over and squeezed through the hole. They caught up to their ringleader and continued to advance upon us menacingly.
Joe did his part by conjuring a hole in the ground. Tyrone stepped right over the it and continued. Trae stepped around it and also continued. Roy, whose eyes were fixed on Kate, did not see the hole and fell right into it. His yells echoed and echoed and the walls of the now empty hall. His buddies did not even falter. They just kept walking.
Kate flicked her finger upwards and Trae, unsuspecting and off his guard, was yanked to the roof by an invisible rope. Tyrone spun around on his heel and sliced his hand across thin air. With a high pitched scream that was so incredibly loud, the owner would have heard it from his house, Trae fell to the floor. He clambered to his feet, with his nose bleeding and the beginning of a black eye. Tyrone kept walking. With a sob of pain, Trae ran out of the doorway in the shield.
Tyrone looked around and with a huff of anger realised he was alone now. He turned back and found, not three people, but two kids and a ferocious looking tiger. The tiger looked at him and gave a growl. He backed away hastily, out of reach of its claws. The growl was still coming from the tiger's throat. The tiger snarled and opened its massive jaws and leapt at him, opening it's claws as it pounced. Tyrone had underestimated my power as a tiger, and so had I. I landed behind him and before he could whip around I attacked from behind. I landed on his back, knocking him over onto his face. I grabbed him by the scruff and hauled him to his feet. He fell to his knees and begged for my forgiveness. I was too far gone. I placed my huge padded paws on his shoulders and roared in his face. Tyrone, terrified, scrambled backwards out of my claws and stumbled to his feet, heading for the doorway in the shield.
I jerked my head at Kate and she quickly sealed off the doorway before he could reach it. He tried all the magic he knew to get the door open again but Kate had done a good job. He turned around and trying to regain his courage he walked towards us and was about to shout an insult when a thundering roar reached our ears. Everyone looked at me and I did the closest thing to a shrug I could manage. Everyone looked around and saw a majestic and fearsome lion standing near the doorway. At least everyone thought it was a lion, but I looked through the thick skin and shaggy mane and I saw Mr. Berns standing there instead of the ferocious lion everyone else had seen. He roared again and instead of a roar, I heard him yell rather loudly, "Leave those kids alone or I'll stick my teeth into your backside, boy!" I did a tigerish smile, baring my teeth. The lion began to advance upon the cowering boy, whose eyes were flicking between the two animal-like forms on either side of him. I growled and he looked at me. The second after his attention was focused on me, Mr. Berns pounced. The bully, realising what was coming, turned around to see the belly of a lion as it landed on him. Mr. Berns lay flat on him, smothering his screams to a muffled wail. I growled contentedly and the lion growled in agreement. He lay on the terrified boy for a few more seconds before leaping off and turning back to his human form.
"That, my boy, is the treatment you deserve after what you have done to the children of this orphanage. Let that be a lesson to you and if I ever hear about you harassing or bullying the other student you can have a two tonne elephant sit on you, not a 200 kilogram lion" said Mr. Berns sternly to the trembling boy.
"Y-y-y-yes s-s-si-si- sir" stuttered Tyrone as he stumbled heavily to his feet.
"Oh- and by the way, tell your little bully friends the same I told you, or you'll all get a thrashing from me and my ani-morph student here and her two friends. Well, stop shaking like a tree in a breeze and stand up straight!"
Tyrone stood up straight and saluted the man hurriedly and dashed out of the room. As I saw him running away like a coward I laughed out loud and then, noticing the stern look Mr. Berns gave me stopped. As he realised that he was the reason I had stopped laughing, his expression softened and he smiled. Then I found myself laughing uncontrollably. Mr. Berns left with a contented shake of his shaggy grey hair. Kate and Joe looked at each other and Kate muttered "Must be an ani-morph thing, don't look at me," I turned around and said "Come on guys, don't you think what just happened was funny?"
"Uh- NO! A teacher just crushed a student. You thought that we would find that funny?" said Joe in amazement.
"Oh- never mind!" I said in a huff.
"Ahem. Well, we are not going to let this slight misunderstanding ruin a good victory, are we?" interrupted Kate.
"Yeah, whatever!" I muttered to myself. Luckily no one heard.
We walked through the orphanage and towards the dorms.
Joe smiled at us and said apologetically,
"I'm kinda tired, so I'm gonna hit the sack. Night, you two," we said goodnight and he left.
I was in the dorm next to Kate's, so I said goodnight and went into my dorm. I looked around and saw all six people in my dorm sitting on their beds anxiously waiting my return. They all jumped up and bombarded me with questions. I didn't answer any of them. I just got into my pyjamas and hopped into bed. They gathered around my bed and kept asking questions, oblivious to the fact that I wasn't going to answer any of them.
Eventually, I got up and said "Look, I'm tired. I turned into a tiger and that drained my strength. I'll tell you what happened to-to-mor-" I never finished. I had fallen to the floor in a faint.
Chapter Seven: Problems
When I finally woke, the first thing I heard was the matron's voice talking to an older man.
"She's been unconscious for six whole days, Mr. Berns. I don't see what could have caused it,"
"I think I know. When she was going up against Tyrone she turned into a tiger. Usually, in her classes, she is a tiger for a short while. But on that day, she was a tiger for more than she was capable of. It was enough to drain her of her strength. She needs time to recover,"
"I- I have had enough –time t-to re-re-recover" I said. My voice sounded scarily faint and weak. In a flash, Matron was at my side. She began fussing over me and giving me extra pillows. Then she gave me the foulest medicine there is. Slimy metallic water, which I once had the misfortune of drinking, was the closest comparison I could think of. I choked on it and only just managed to swallow it.
"That was disgusting!"
"It will restore the strength you need to go to classes," said Matron. She was right. I was already feeling much better.
"Have Joe and Kate come to see me?"
"Yes. They have been with you non-stop except when classes were on. Joe has hardly eaten. Neither has poor Kate. You should be very grateful. And very angry at them! They've given up their health for you!"
"Matron, I think Nkala needs sleep," said Mr. Berns softly,
"No, I'm feeling much better," I started, but Matron pushed me back down.
"I don't care. You will remain here until you are ready to resume your classes," Mr. Berns told me.
I left the sick bay later that day. I took one step out of the door and a loud scream and a yell nearly deafened me.
"Nkala!" Kate's dark brown hair and brown eyes were the only things I saw before she collided with me. She was hugging me so tightly I had to tell her I couldn't breathe. She let go of me, and resumed her careful scrutiny.
"You haven't eaten, have you?"
"Kate, I only just woke up, of course I haven't eaten! I had a bit to eat yesterday when I woke up, but other than that, I haven't had anything!" I said with a smile.
"Ok. Well, it's half an hour to dinner, you hungry?" said Joe who hadn't ran up and hugged me like Kate, or even made himself present, until then. I looked at him and then realising just how hungry I was, linked arms with Kate. When I offered my other arm to Joe, he ignored it and went to Kate's side. I thought about it for a few minutes but the smells coming from the kitchens took my mind off it. We entered the dining hall three minutes early and were served the hottest and most delicious servings of the food. I noted that Joe didn't sit next to me like he usually did. He sat next to Kate and ate his food in silence.
Over the next few weeks, I noted that Joe was becoming more and more distant. He hardly spoke to me and he was never on his own. Whenever I wanted to talk to him on his own he would always see me coming and get into a deep conversation before I reached him. When I finally got him on his own, when he was coming out of the toilets, he chose to ignore me. As soon as I said something he called the first person he saw, which happened to be Kate. He walked away with her and, with a heavy heart, I thought I had lost my two best friends.
Chapter Eight: Lonely
The next month passed without anything interesting happening. I hadn't spoken to Joe and Kate for two and a half weeks and I was so lonely, I had befriended the twins, Anna and Hannah. They were my age with blonde hair shoulder-length, with bright green eyes. They were identical, to the small freckle above their right eyebrow. They were nice at times, but most of the time they were beastly rascals that ran around and broke nearly every rule there was. But, they were the only people in my grade that wanted me as a friend. Well, they didn't really want me as a friend; they more would have me as a friend. Although, when they were beastly rascals, I didn't really hang around with them. Only when they were in their good mood, would I hang out with them.
Mrs. Johns, noticing that Joe and Kate were not speaking to me, pulled me aside on day.
"Darling, I have noticed for a while now that your friends, Joe and Kate have, uh, been avoiding you," she said slowly, sounding as if she was picking her words carefully.
"Yeah, so?" I said wearily, trying to be nonchalant like it wasn't killing me inside.
"Has anything… happened lately?" she asked gently
I looked at her for a minute and with my lower lip trembling as I held back tears, "I don't know. When I was unconscious for the six days, I woke up and he has barely spoken to me since," I said, the first tear rolling down my cheek followed shortly by another.
"Come, come don't cry." But the tears just kept pouring down my cheeks. I huddled into Mrs. John's woollen coat and breathed in deeply. The smell of her sweet perfume soothed me immediately. I kept crying and crying. The last month's tears were just pouring out. The loneliness, the confusion and the unhappiness were freeing themselves by the way of tears. When I could cry no more, I looked into Mrs. John's wrinkled face, those blue eyes, that short, curly, grey hair and that loving smile. Mrs. Johns made me feel safe. I smiled and said a word of thanks and slowly walked away.
Looking back I saw Joe timidly walking up to Mrs. Johns. I watched as she walked slowly the opposite way with him. I saw him run his hand through his hair. He always did that when he was confused about something. I wondered briefly what he was confused about, then shrugged it away. It was his problem, and if he didn't want me to know, then so be it.
Chapter Nine: Flunking, Friends and the Slop
It had been four months since I saw Joe with Mrs. Johns. I had run into him on numerous occasions and on all of them he looked sad and downcast. He would not look at me and Kate was no longer at his side. Instead, Kyle Mane was at his side. Kyle was a tall, handsome boy of about thirteen. He was funny, nice and his teeth were perfect. He had a great smile and he had brown hair and dark eyes. The only thing not perfect about him was he was hopeless at talking to girls. He would stutter and stumble, mumble and jumble the words so that they made no sense what-so-ever. In the end he would just walk away from the girl. So it was no wonder he had no female friends.
Joe was hanging out with him, but he still looked sad and alone. When I saw him when he was laughing, I could tell his laughter was forced. When he looked up and saw me looking at him he averted his eyes.
I went and saw Mr. Wilbert Jr.
"Mr Wilbert? Can I come in?" I called into his study.
"Yes, but what where you step," said a weary voice.
I walked in and looked around. When I saw who was at the desk I gave a cry and ran over to Mr. Wilbert. He had wrinkles that he never had before and his usual blue eyes were a dull grey. He had bags under his eyes and his mouth looked as if he had not smiled in weeks.
"Mr. Wilbert! What's wrong?" I exclaimed when I saw the sight of him.
"What? Oh-nothing. Nothing of utter importance, anyway." said Mr. Wilbert. I frowned, but didn't press him. I instead asked him,
"Sir, what's wrong with Joe?" Mr Wilbert looked at me, and then said slowly,
"Mister Bailey has not been attending his classes for quite some time now. As you students put it, he has been 'flunking',"
"What? Joe loves this class, he would never flunk" I remarked incredulously.
"Indeed, i thought so too. But look at this!" he showed me Joe's report card. In the row of attending all classes was a large pronounced 'F'.
"He has not come to my class for three months," said Mr. Wilbert dismally.
I left the room five minutes later and ran into Kate. I greeted her and walked off. She ran after me, asking what was wrong. I stopped and told her about Joe flunking classes. When I told her this, she gasped and exclaimed, "I saw him, just up in the garden: I could have pummelled him!" I laughed without thinking and started walking off. Kate didn't follow. About halfway down the passage way I ran into Joe. Seeing who it was, he looked around, but there was no one in the passage.
"Joe Bailey! I just went and saw Mr. Wilbert. And do you know what he told me? He told me that you have been flunking classes!" I yelled in his face, my hand holding onto his scruff.
"Yeah, I have, but it is none of your business!" he yelled back at me.
"You know how that makes me feel? It makes me feel as if it is my fault. I just worry for you. I don't want to think that I am making you to flunk. You haven't spoken to me for four months Joe. Why?" I said, on the verge of tears.
"Because Tyrone said he would beat me up if I spoke to you again," Joe's voice didn't sound very convincing.
"You're lying," I said resentfully, starting to turn away.
"Ok fine. Someone told me that I like you, so I was proving them wrong!"
That was enough. I felt the tears go down my cheeks. I was furious at Joe, but suddenly it seemed like such a stupid emotion. But even while i found it utterly stupid, i was still angry. Angry that he had ignored me just becasue someone had said something like that. But my anger disappeared when Joe looked down and said,
"I never wanted to hurt your feelings. And i never wanted to ignore you. Do you forgive me?" and I almost slapped him,
"Duh! Of course I forgive you, you stupid dolt! But don't ever ignore me for something so stupid ever again!" Joe grinned at me, and said sheepishly,
"I won't. Friends?" I laughed,
"You two finally caught on," Kate said, where she stood a few metres away. The corners of her mouth twitched 'til she finally started laughing. She took one look at the bewildered looks on our faces and laughed even harder.
"Ah- you two are so gullible" she said when she had finally recovered from the laughter. We all walked down the passage, arm in arm happier than we had been in six months. We talked and talked and when we finally realised dinner had started half an hour ago, we ran to the dining hall and had a small plate of "The Slop" thrust at us. We sat down in silence, all too aware of the eyes upon us. In five minutes time, everyone left the dining hall, except us. We hung around for a bit still eating our pudding.
"Darlings! It's wonderful to see you are no longer being distant! I hate it when good friends like you three don't get along!" a voice rang out across the dining hall. We all looked around and saw Mrs. Johns walking towards us. She reached us and her face was all smiles. Then her smile faded.
"You three have been turned a blind eye, due to your current problems, but now you have all worked it out together, as I knew you would, I can no longer ingnore your behaviours. Joe, flunking class is a serious offence. I want to see you back in Mr Wilbert's classes tomorrow. Nkala, you are to stop confronting those horrid boys in animal form, and Kate, you are to control your temper. You have two brillinat friends here, I wish to see you treat them better. No 'pummeling' Joe, or laughing at their misunderstandings, do you understand?" Kate blushed, and said to her shoelaces,
"Yes Mrs Johns," the kind hearted woman turned her eyes to me and I nodded,
"I won't cause trouble with them anymore," and Joe said quickly,
"I won't ever flunk classes again, I promise!" Mrs johns laughed,
"Okay, i believe you. Now, just stick to your words, and I think everything will be just fine,"
We left the dining hall, laughing. Our smiles didn't last long. We were late for lights out and Matron nearly killed us. She woke up half the neighbourhood and the owner came in at 10 o'clock to see what all the fuss was. Matron got off lightly (according to us) and Joe, Kate and I got a detention for being in the hallways after lights out.
The next day, we went to our detentions and they went quickly. We held back our giggles for the whole time and Kate got hiccups. When he heard the sound of Kate's hiccups, Joe started crying with laughter, even though he didn't emit a sound.
Chapter Ten: Birthdays
Time flew by and one day, it was like I was looking through new eyes: at someone I had known for a while. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time. They meant more to me now that they ever did. And I couldn't suppress or deny the feelings, even though I tried.
I was turning fifteen in one week's time. I was excited because it meant that I was old enough to stop having lessons. Every child that turned fifteen was old enough to completely control their powers. Tyrone and his bully friends had left three months ago and the school was still celebrating. The younger children could walk around by themselves and they wouldn't get ambushed by sixteen year old boys.
The sad thing was, Mrs. Lilola, the music teacher, was badly hurt in a car accident and she was in a coma. The children in her class went to see her three times a week and from what the nurses had told the orphanage, the one side of the room was full of flowers.
Mrs. Lilola's family had gone to visit her and she had four sisters and three brothers. They had all taken her flowers. The full staff at the orphanage had gone to see her, each person taking a huge bouquet of flowers and a large box of chocolates. Her hairdresser, the shoe shop owner and the music store staff had come and brought a bouquet each. Her mother, her father, her grandma and grandpa had come with a bunch of flowers.
The nurses said she had tulips, daisies, lilies and an exotic flower they didn't know the name of. She had petunias and roses, snapdragons and daffodils. She had orchids, lilacs and every other flower there is.
Back to birthdays. Kate's birthday was a week before mine. Joe's birthday was the week after mine. Kate turned fifteen and my birthday was in two days.
"Hey Kate, how is not having classes going?" I asked her when I finally caught up to her.
"Rubbish. There's two people including me not doing classes and the other one is that brat- Caitlyn Hatter!"
"Ooh. Well don't worry. I'm out on Friday." I reassured her.
She muttered something and walked off. I smiled after her. After all, she did get worked up over nothing. That day passed really quickly. By the time I hopped into bed I was thinking tomorrow just couldn't come quick enough.
The next day, I woke up at 4:30am in the morning. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and was creeping out the door when Sylvia said "Nkala, is that you? I hope you're excited about today!" before her quiet snores filled the room once more.
"Yes, Sylvia, I am excited" I replied quietly
I slipped out of the door and down the passage. There was something different about the orphanage. There was a strange feeling in the air, so I went back to bed. Three hours later, (7:30am) I was woken up by Claudia, the girl in the bed next to mine.
"Nkala, it's ya' birthday today" she said in the hoarse voice of hers. In about thirty seconds flat I was dressed with a brush in my hand. I raked the brush through my hair and brushed my teeth. It was a cold day so I pulled on my jumper. Claudia had left some minutes before and I was the only one in my dorm. I pulled on a pair of socks, slipped on my sneakers and left the room. I thought I might go down to breakfast so I changed my direction towards the dining hall. I stepped into the dining hall and an explosion of noise hit me like a ton of bricks. I staggered back and ran into Joe. I turned around as he thrust a bottle of lemonade in my hand. "SURPRISE!" he said with a smile.
"You did all this? For me?" I asked doubtfully.
"Yep. I had to keep it secret for two weeks!" Joe sounded amazed that he had kept the secret for so long. I hugged him and turning around, I saw Kate standing there with her arms folded; waiting for the thanks I was to give her. I walked up to her, said thanks and hugged her too.
"I have the two bestest friends in the whole universe!" and I truly meant it.
Chapter Eleven: Fun
The whole day I spent entertaining everyone with my powers. When I turned into a spider the girls in front of me screeched in terror and scrambled backwards. When I turned into a tiger and started playing around, the little kids (meaning the two and three year olds) jumped on me and started scratching my ears. It felt great, especially because I was basically a big cat. When I was thinking about the words big cat, I turned into a large tabby. The kids weight became too much and I turned back into myself yelling "OK! Rides over!" the little kids jumped off my now aching back, moaning and whining.
I cut the cake and gave a piece to everyone there (it was a massive cake). We entertained the younger children while still enjoying ourselves. Joe got in touch with his inner child and thrashed the little kids at Pin the Tail on the Donkey. He gave his lollies to a young girl and she shared them with her friends. I smashed the piñata and all the kids (including Joe) scrambled around my feet to get the lollies.
When my birthday was finally over, Joe, Kate and I were allowed to go for a walk. We went up to the park, which was about three blocks away. It stood on a hill and it was packed with kids. We decided to go to the other park. We walked all the way back to the orphanage and walked another block to get to the other park. By the time we had got to the other park we were too tired to play, so we went back to the orphanage. As we stepped in we saw an elephant giving rides to people. I smiled, knowing that it was Mr. Berns. Joe ran up and climbed on the elephants back. Kate and I followed, laughing at him. He could be so childish sometimes. Kate climbed up, but I didn't. I didn't want to get on the elephant and hurt it because it was my former teacher.
Instead, I turned into an elephant and a couple of little kids laughed and climbed on me too. In those couple of kids was Joe and Kate. I trumpeted and they laughed. Joe slid down my trunk, and Kate followed him. Then all the little kids tried it, and then Joe tried it again. Then I turned back and said,
"All right, that's enough!" Joe laughed and Kate and all the others joined in.
Chapter Twelve: Seventeen
Weeks turned into months, and months into years. I grew, practising my skills and enjoying the freedom. I was turning seventeen in two months and eleven days. Mr. Berns stilled helped me practise and I was great at turning into a tiger. I loved tigers and I could picture it best in my head. I had grown my nails so that when I turned into a tiger my nails were longer, so I could claw at things better. When I turned into a tiger, my teeth were long and white. My hair went form being really long, to much shorter, because it was easier to handle. No matter the difference to my hair, my hair as a tiger never varied: it was always short and smooth.
The months passed, and I was now seventeen. Seven years had passed since I started my story. I had grown to my full height. I was 182cm tall and so was Kate. Joe was taller than both of us at 190cm tall.
Kate had a boyfriend. His name was Samuel and he was really cool. He wore long, baggy shorts and a cool cap. He was funny and everyone wanted to be just like him. He was great at sports and he was exactly like Kate. I liked him and so did Kate. Joe didn't mind him but he did not hang around with Kate as much as he used to. I was forced to share my time between both of them. I would spend Monday with Kate, Tuesday with Joe and Wednesday with neither, practising my skills, Thursday with Kate and Friday with Joe. I would take time off on Saturday to practise again.
i still felt for that someone but now it was stronger, more potent. It was as if I had to be around him, or I felt empty. And the worst part was I had never told anyone, not in the years that I had felt this way. I knew that if I didn't act soon, he would slip away from me, and probably fall for another. But I couldn't bring myself to tell him, fearing he would not feel the same. So I waited in silence.
The sad thing was about being seventeen was we were getting to the stage where we could move out of the orphanage. As we looked around the orphanage, we saw less elder students and more ten year olds and eleven year olds. It was sad to see our friends leave the orphanage with two suitcases of clothes and belongings, and waving until they turned around a corner. Pretty soon, the three of us were the only seventeen year olds in the orphanage.
The reason we hadn't left yet, was because the orphanage was our only home. No apartment or house could match that old orphanage. It was the only house we had known and none of us could bear to see it getting smaller as we drove away. It also held all the memories of our childhood, the good and the bad. It held our hopes and our dreams ad even our secrets. It was part of us, and we couldn't bear to leave it behind. But we knew deep down, that we would have to. Some day or another.
One day, Mrs. Johns came to see us. She sat us down at a table with a newspaper.
"You three need to find a house. You are seventeen and old enough to look after yourself," she said, opening the newspaper.
"Mrs. Johns, we haven't stayed because we think we are not old enough to look after ourselves. We have stayed because we love the orphanage too much to leave just yet," I said. Mrs. Johns looked up, astonishment on her wrinkled face.
"Well, darlings, I'm afraid the owner has ordered you to leave. He says you are too old to stay in the orphanage" said Mrs. Johns sadly. We looked at her now serious eyes and gave in, not willing to argue with her. So we opened the newspaper reluctantly and started looking for a place to live. But our hearts were heavy.
Chapter Thirteen: Dumped
A few weeks later, Kate was moving out. She had found a great apartment on Johnson Street, downtown. There were tears at her departure and the sight of one of my best friends leaving after so many years was too much to bear. I ran inside and sat on my bed. Minutes later, Joe timidly opened the door. I looked up when he walked in. his cheeks were wet and it was obvious that he had been crying. He sat on the bed without a word and holding my hand; he pulled me up and hugged me.
"It's going to be OK. We'll go visit her when we've found houses," he said gently letting go of me and holding me at arms length.
We were in luck. Two weeks later, we found an apartment. When we found out it was an apartment for two, we rang the manager applied for two people to stay there. They accepted the fact that I was an ani-morph and the next week, we were on our way. We left in a cab and when we got to the apartment, knew we had made the right choice. It had a pool and the rent wasn't high. It had a nice feel to it and the rooms were lovely.
Three weeks later, we were having Kate over for dinner. I was making a salad and Joe was cooking sausages on the barbecue. It smelt wonderful. I went into the dining room and laid the table for four. I didn't know if she was bringing Samuel or not, so I put out an extra mat and cutlery.
At 6:30pm, I looked out of the window and saw Kate. She had brought no one with her, so I put away the extra stuff. A few seconds later, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in Kate, the door's open!" I yelled at the top of my voice. Kate walked in with a light brown coat draped around her shoulders. I looked her up and down and exclaimed "What have you done to yourself? We have you over for one night and you turn up looking like you've been in a cage for weeks!"
"I'm sorry. Samuel dumped me when I didn't want to move into his house and I've gone broke," Kate's voice was faint. I started at the sound of it and immediately called Joe. I told him to sit her down and give her something to drink. He complied, his brow furrowed with concern as he saw Kate.
I went into the kitchen and quickly served up dinner. I gave Kate the biggest of the three. When I did this Joe looked inquiringly at me and I ushered him into the kitchen. I quickly explained what Kate had been through and he took the left plate of the two. I could not help but notice he took the plate with the least on it. Typical Joe, so selfless, so thoughtful.
We ate dinner in silence. After dinner, I brought out the ice-cream. At the sight of her favourite food, Kate's face visibly brightened and she accepted a plate of it with chocolate sprinkles and chocolate sauce on top. After that, Joe and I made arrangements with the manager that Kate would stay with us until she had earned enough money to go back to her apartment. When she heard us on the phone she waited until we hung up and then told us that we shouldn't have done what we did. We insisted and eventually, she gave in and drove to her house, coming back an hour later with two packed bags.
"So where do I sleep?" she asked with a huge grin on her thin face. We showed her to my room.
"You can have the bed. I don't like it anyway. I'll get a spare from the storage room downstairs," she tried to argue, but I shrugged her arguments away and she eventually gave in.
Chapter Fourteen: Change
Well, Kate moved back into her old apartment and we lived on. I applied for a job at the wildlife reserve. I would go around turning into the animals I saw and talking to them for a while. If one of them didn't like something I tried my best to fix it. You see, my powers didn't only mean I could turn into an animal. They also meant I could understand the animal species I had turned into.
The hyenas were extremely difficult to talk to because they didn't really talk; they more went into hysterics at anything I said. It was really annoying. They tortoises were my second favourite animal there. They were an ancient race and they knew so many stories. We would spend hours talking about life when their parents were young and the parents would talk about when they were child-free. Only problem was, they spoke very slowly, knowing they had all the time in the world to finish their sentences.
Three months passed and a change was coming. The king had died and the country had not yet elected a new leader for the magical world. The king had been a great man. He had controlled the magic in the land and he had been very wise in his decisions. But he had no heir. So it was up to the people to pick one for him. It was unfortunate, but necessary.
Now that he was dead there was a change. There was more magical violence and the land was dying. It seemed that the land had thrived on the king's power over everyone and now that he was gone, so was that power. People were confined to their houses in fear of attack. Villains ruled, and more people were dying unnecessarily every day.
The new villains had broken out of prison the day the king had died. They had been savouring their power and when they heard the news summoned up all their strength and reduced the cell to nothing but a fine dust. Then, they gladly ran out of prison, killing everyone in their way. So people lived on, fearing death and attack more and more with each day that passed.
Chapter Fifteen: Elections
Joe and I were confined to our apartment. That would have been okay if he sang in the shower too. But only I did that, and so now I couldn't. And having a pig of a male in a house with you leaves you only a small amount of food when he's done with it. I was having difficulty keeping up my strength. And having to practice my ani-morph powers every day, I had to keep my strength up.
We would ring Kate just to make sure she was alright and she always was. We knew she was more than capable of taking care of the villains. She was brave at heart and strong-willed. She would never walk away from a fight, something that could cost her more than a couple of bruises. She was always on her guard and she didn't trust anyone who didn't know her middle name. I smiled at the thought of it.
In the meantime, I was sitting at the table in the lounge, working out my payslip. It said I had worked overtime everyday, and I knew it to be true. What concerned me was that they had only payed me a fraction of what I was meant to be payed. This meant that my $1520.00 was reduced to $920. This meant I'd have to put off shopping for another week. I would not stand for it so I called the owner and told him about the mistake. He said it wasn't a mistake, because the bank had been robbed, and the Reserve money stolen. The bank was paying him a benefit, but not enough to continue paying everyone normally. He told me that he had spent a tenth of that money to install extra security measures. He also told me that all the staff had received $920 that week. I explained to him that I had a guy living with me that hadn't eaten healthy food for two weeks. He had had take outs for the past week. He apologised but told me there was nothing he could do.
Elections were being held sooner, to stop the rising crime, but there was a problem. All three men were equally loved by the public by some major coincidence and all three kept getting the same amount of votes. Three possible rulers, two men, one woman.
After the eleventh election in a month, the people finally gave up on one of the choices; a kind lady who had promised to rule with honesty and courage to her people. I thought she was the best candidate for our land. The only problem was: no one else thought that, so my opinion didn't matter.
As the voters changed sides, the votes began again. Turns out, half of the lady's supporters couldn't make up their minds either. The two men got the exact same amount of votes as each other, and it began again. The council tried over and over again to persuade the people to mingle with the other side's voters, so that they could get a new leader, but the people were stubborn, and refused to sway.
One day a new person appeared at the voting poll. He was middle aged with broad shoulders and a heavy build. His eyes were a hazelnut colour and his hair was black but with specks of grey in it. No one noticed him, except for a small girl who was probably only 18 months old. She saw the figure and her eyes softened. It was as if she knew the man and thought that he was a kind gentle man with no evil intentions. He noticed her gaze and turning his head slightly towards her, smiled. She giggled and the mother turned to look what she was giggling at. In an instant, the man flicked his finger and he was no longer standing there. Instead, an old man stood in his place. If anyone had taken the time to look at the man, they would have noticed that metres away stood an identical man. The small child looked puzzled then, turning away, snuggled into her mother. The man looked around and took his original form.
Once again, the voting happened. The council opened the envelope and cried "It has happened. We have found the new leader!!" The two candidate's eyes flicked up. The man on the right was a young man. His smile did not reach his eyes and he had small pointed teeth. The man on the left was even younger, but the difference was his smile. It reached his eyes, and his eyes sparkled as he thought of what would happen if he won.
"Ganovile Grandafter has won the election, with 1 million and one people against one million people!" declared the council. The first man's eyes shot up. At this second in time his eyes glinted dangerously, before returning to their normal state. The second man looked crestfallen and horrified. He thought he saw the evil glitter in his opponent's eyes and sorely wished he hadn't.
Chapter Sixteen: Rebellion
Weeks on, the land had not improved, but worsened. It was then that the people realised that they had made a mistake in voting for him and they suddenly wanted to know who had put in the extra vote. For no one had left the place and no one had voted twice. This left one scenario: someone else was at the voting poll. There was a big search for this person, but no one was found. Everyone assumed it was a man, because a woman of that time would have voted for the younger man, as many did.
Our town had received word that there was a rebellious group coming to see if we would go against the King in battle. I and I had signed up willingly, but Kate wished not to become involved in the war.
We left the next morning and were currently three days into our journey to the borders of the land were the rest of the rebel leagues were camped. It had been a long and tiring march, fending off the king's demons whenever he sent them. We knew in advance when the creatures were coming because we had a spy in the King's court. He had sent word three hours before the enemy attack.
On the fourth day, we arrived at the Leguein (pronounced lee-juin). This was the name given to the rebellion. It was a small valley, surrounded by trees and unseen by the enemy. The magic of the sorceress and sorcerer leader had been combined to make the valley unseeable by anyone other than members of the Leguein. At first, we could not see it. Then a man with white eyes stepped up beside and gave an unearthly cry. The ground trembled and a cliff loomed up beside us. Joe jumped into me in fear of being swallowed by the hole that now lay beside the group. I staggered and fell over. Joe toppled over, landing on me.
"Get up you fools! We are descending in three minutes exactly" hissed a voice next to my ear. I jumped and stood up, steadying myself. Joe stood up beside me and brushed off the dirt, mumbling an apology. I waved it away with a flick of my hand.
As we descended, I saw more life. There were more people walking around. As we entered the village, the villagers turned and stared at the two new people in the group; Joe and I. We felt uncomfortable and set our eyes on the floor. The village people continued to stare.
When we finally reached headquarters, there was a mob of curious villagers trailing behind us. They followed us into headquarters and waited for the announcement they knew was going to come. They stared up at their wondrous leaders; The Lady Berlin and her husband The Lord Merlin. They stepped forward, embraced their new-found followers and then turned to the crowd.
"My dearest followers, I bring great news. We have two new- followers" the Lady Berlin's lilting, mellow voice hesitated on the last word. It was as if she knew we were followers, but did not yet trust us enough to call us friends. Joe looked at me and shrugged.
Later that evening, the Lord and Lady came to visit us in our room. Brunette was the colour of the Lady's hair and her eyes were a light green. They sparkled in the light and when she smiled they lit up as if she was permanently happy. Or she saw something else, something I had been trying to deny for years. The Lord's hair was a sandy colour and his eyes were green, the exact same colour of the Lady's eyes.
"We came to tell you that the King's army will be attacking within days. We also received word that our spy had been caught and tortured into telling the King where our hideout is. We must prepare for Battle!" the Lady's head lifted and there was a determined look in those bright green eyes that made me think she wasn't the chicken some of the king's men thought she was.
Chapter Seventeen: Marcus
The next day, Joe and I were sent to the stable to collect the horses assigned to us. My horse was a black stallion named Storm and Joe's was a white mare named Penelope. We went out into the paddock to practise our riding skills. Joe was whinging about having a female horse, until he reached the paddock. As soon as Joe said that she was probably slow and would back out in the war, she bolted. I was amazed at how fast she could go. Joe was thrown off the back and landed on his back, where he coughed, and sat up, groaning. Snorting, Penelope trotted up to him, nudging him with her nose. He patted her nose and muttered "Oh- so you wanna play like that, huh? I can play like that!" he mounted her and digging his heels into her side, bolted around the field. Following his lead, I dug my heels into Storm's side and he ran after Penelope. After a while the stable master came out and told us a startling piece of news.
"I shouldn' really be keeping it a secret, but Miss Penelope over 'ere has got a thing for this ol' boy" as he said it he patted Storm.
"No kidding!" I exclaimed,
"No kiddin'" agreed the stable master.
I looked down at Storm and as if in response, he nodded his head. I looked at Joe, and saw the look of amazement on his face.
We rode the horses back to the stables, and went to our sword lessons. We got there and were told to come at the next lesson, which was in twenty-five minutes. So we sat down in the grass and watched the other group doing backhand forehand and over-head cuts onto the practise pole. There was a man with a square jaw and a sweaty forehead, that caught my attention. Where the others seemed to have difficulty holding the sword, this man seemed to have no trouble keeping the blade level with his eyes at all times. His grip on the hilt was strong, and his movements were swift and agile. I saw something that amazed me; I had seen that routine before! I watched the man more carefully, and suddenly it hit me: I had seen the guards on sentry duty at the Kings castle doing that routine to pass on time. As I watched, I recognised the man. He was one of the guards!
I jumped up, intending to confront him, but watching how fast he did the movements, made me stop. He was going fast and his routine was jumbled and random. There was no way to get to him without getting sliced or hit by the blade of the sword.
I thought for a while and then, taking the shape of a mouse slipped away. Suddenly, a hand held my tail and Joe's face loomed large above me.
"What are you doing, Nkala?" I squeaked in protest and he let go of my tail. I scurried away, towards the man I recognised as a guard from the castle. As I got closer, I noticed a badge on his chest. I thought that was strange. I read the name and it identified the male guard as Marcus Marley. He paused for a breath and I seized the chance. I scurried up to him and turned back into myself. As I was sitting in front of him, I was in his line of sight when I changed. As I appeared, he gave a yell of fright and jumped backwards, tripping over a stray practise sword. I gasped and ran up to him. Bending over, I asked him if he was alright. He jumped to his feet saying something about an old man getting a heart attack and mouthing swear words. He looked at me and exclaimed, "You just-just- appeared! Out of nowhere!" I looked apologetically at him and started "Um- you see- uh- I'm an ani-morph and-"
Marcus put a hand up to stop me, and whistled,
"We-e-ell, I hoped I might see an ani-morph before the end of my time," he said in a gruff voice, which had a slight accent to it. I smiled, grateful that I had fulfilled someone's hopes.
Chapter Eighteen: Training
Later, Marcus, Joe and I went for a walk. Mark explained that he had fled the king's service when he had heard of what he was going to do to the land. I asked what he was going to do and Mark only replied "Young Missy, you had best hope you never find out!" I shivered. He also told me that the King had hired a shape-shifter to vote for him.
"So that's where the extra vote came from!" I looked around, comprehension on his face.
"Yes-sir-ee, that's exactly where it came from," said Mark
"But that's cheating!" I said amazed that Ganovile would go that far to win the election.
"Do you think Ganovile cares if it's cheating or not? Do you think he feels sorry for the other man in the election?" Mark asked a matter-of-factly.
"No, of course he doesn't care," I admitted bashfully. Mark nodded,
"You better believe it. Ganovile would stop at nothing to get the throne, even if it meant destroying his own land. Which he plans on doing anyway!" Joe and I just looked shocked.
Just then I looked around and announced that our sword lesson was arriving. We bid good day to Mark and hurried over to our group.
"Now, this is the last lesson for today. I will leave you to work out a routine for ten minutes and then I will be back to see it," the sword master gave that set of instructions and walked off. The men and women around us picked up their swords; I did the same. I looked at the piece of parchment on the pole to see what moves there were. First off, I tried all of the moves and then I jumbled them up a bit. By the end of the ten minutes I had a fairly basic routine. When the sword master came, he went through the routines one-by-one. The first person we saw get rejected was a slim female who, even though she had muscles, by the time the sword master got to her, couldn't hold the sword up any longer. She collapsed at his feet and he bent down and yelled at her to go home. She staggered to her feet and ran away.
"Hey! I was watching her before and she's got talent. The only reason she collapsed was because she worked so hard on her routine, that it had taken all the energy out of her!" Joe's voice rang out. The sword master turned to see who had stuck up for the rejected woman. When he saw Joe positively fuming, he marched over.
"Now who do we 'ave 'ere?" he asked in a mocking tone.
"Joe Bailey, new rebel" Joe introduced himself.
"Ah- a new rebel hey? I've heard o' you,"
He nodded towards Joe.
"If you think she's got a good routine, let me see yours!" he gestured towards Joe's sword and the pole. Joe picked up his sword and started his routine. I looked on in amazement; I didn't know how Joe got so good! His sword was going so fast, it was just a blur. Joe had gotten just past the middle of the routine when the sword master yelled "OK, OK, OK! You're in the army mate!" Joe stopped looking around. I was amazed to see that he hadn't even broken out in a sweat.
The sword master turned and looked at me.
"You're turn missy!" he jeered. I turned to the pole and started my routine. But it was not my routine. My hands and feet were doing a different routine! I glanced around quickly and saw Joe muttering and looking at me. I realised that he had enchanted me to make to better. I smiled and carried on. The sword master looked on in amazement and ticked me off on the army roll saying "You're in!" I whooped in delight and my feet stopped moving. I ran up to Joe and hugged him.
"Now I won't have to scour the battle field to see if you're dead when the war is over. I know you can look after yourself," he looked down at me as if to say 'Me, die? No way' then he smiled. I smiled back at him. His arms were still around me, and I looked down at them pointedy. He just smiled and put his arm around my shoulder. Together, we walked off the field.
Chapter Nineteen: War
The next two days passed far too quickly. Our army gathered on a hillside overlooking Brosia at the crack of dawn. I looked around at our so-called army. Twenty thousand men covered the hill, all awaiting the start of the war that would decide everything.
All were armed with armour, half with a horse, the archers with a quiver of arrows and a bow, and the knights with a sharpened sword and an axe. The army was in a rough rectangular formation, in rows. In the first several rows, there were foot soldiers. Behind them were men on horses. In the back rows there were archers, high on a hill, so that they would have a vantage point. Placed roughly every sixth person, were dwarfs and gnomes, centaurs and griffins and the most fierce and violent of the mighty giants. The dwarfs and gnomes were armed with small swords and small axes, the centaurs armed with spears and swords. The griffins were armed with talons and ferociously curved beaks. The giants were armed with boulders and giants clubs that were being put into use against one another as practise. Also spread evenly among the people was some of Brosia's most powerful rebel sorcerers. To a glancing spy it would seem as though the ranks of men and creatures were higgledy-piggledy, but in actual fact, the army would have maximum advantage because each creature had a power or skill that would benefit a soldier or sorcerer next to them, and each soldier would be a help to the creatures and sorcerers. If the Rebels had set up their army like the Kings, then no one would be benefited, and a spy would be able to tell the King which part of his army should attack which part of the Rebel's army.
As time passed by, we saw the first comings of our enemy; The King. Emerging from the mist, his figure looked large and creepy. As he came more into our focus, we could now see his army. His ranks were well controlled, but completely useless if the Rebels were to stage a surprise attack. The only thing we had that the King did not was the magical creatures of Brosia. But what the King had that we didn't was men; lots of them. We could tell by the time we could see them all that there was a great deal more men. There were probably one hundred thousand men. I ran from the middle to the front where the Lord and Lady were mounted on their horses.
"They have too many allies! You will not make it out alive! There numbers are probably eighty thousand more than us," I yelled over the noise of the galloping feet and hoarse yells and screams of war.
"My child, they have numbers far greater than ours, but we have good spirits and something worth fighting for. They are machines, they have nothing to fight for, and they only fight because they were told to. Do not fear, we will win this," Lady Berlin's voice soothed me. It was like water in a hot desert. I walked back to my place. Joe smiled and said softly so only I could hear "I will be with you. Don't leave me and I will protect you." I thanked him silently.
For almost an hour, both Armies did nothing. They watched one another, gathering information, waiting for the right moment to begin fighting. I could hear the sorcerers chanting and recognised the spell as a powerful shield spell. I looked up and sure enough, there was a misty substance forming around the army. I turned to the front in time to hear someone in our army yell, "FIRE!!" there was a 'twang' and thousands of bowstring were released. The sky darkened as a cloud of arrows passed over our heads. They hit the enemy and there were cries and screams and men and women were killed and wounded.
The enemy archers released, and our foot soldiers met in the middle. The shield fell as a sorcerer died, and screams of men erupted from all around me. Now it was my time. Turning into a tiger took barely a thought now. As I ran my toenails elongated, thinned and turned black. I dropped onto all fours, just as my fingernails became claws. Whiskers sprouted on my cheeks, and fur grew down my back like a wave. Inch long canines burst through my gums, and my eyes prickled slightly as they changed, and I saw everything in a new light. My padded paws barely touched the ground as I sprinted through the men.
Noticing that Joe was still at my side, I growled and his horses reared, instictively moving away from me. I saw a rocky outcrop and ran onto it. It jutted out and I stood above the battlefield from where I was standing. I growled and then i roared. It echoed around the now eerily quiet battlefield. Many men looked up to see where the source of the echoing roar was coming from. When they saw a tiger, the enemy jeered. As I heard the mocking sound, Islid easily into the form of an elephant and ran, throwing the enemy around with my tusks, and crushing countless men with my feet. As I got back to the rock, I slid into the guise of a lion, and roared my anger, louder, and longer than my tiger roar. As I closed my huge jaws, i turned back into a tiger. The enemy now knew that an ani-morph was in this war.
Chapter Twenty: Love
I ran in and out of fights, ripping, clawing, biting and shredding. I leapt off a rock, melted into a lion midway, landed on my foe and tore his throat out. Their blood was cool on my throat. I turned from roaring lion to howling wolf, to hissing snake. As a snake, I bit my enemies, my poison coursing through their veins as they died. I turned into a cheetah as a ran through the fallen foes, and sunk my teeth into the enemy with such speed that they died not knowing how.
The gnomes darted around, jabbing their swords into the vulnerable flesh above the ankles. The giants leapt around with giant steps, grabbing handfuls of men and smashing their heads together, killing on impact. The centaurs galloped past men, their spears thrusting forwards, and going through bodies entirely, before being yanked out again. The archers shot hundreds of arrows, and the enemy thinned out pretty quickly, many surrendering before I, or anyone else, got them.
But enemy also fought without mercy. They ran through the field, slicing, jabbing and blocking. Many of our men were wounded. Many were dead.
But our army had banded together. They had linked arms, metaphorically, and advanced. The sorcerers weaved magic into swords so they would not break and they had driven the enemy back. It was now a fair battle.
I had tried my best, and I had done well. But something happened that changed that. I ran into Mr Berns. But it was not Mr Berns anymore. He had changed, so completely it was a wonder I recognised him. he had gone to evil, and now his eyes glowed pale sickly yellow, and in his lion guise, his fur was matted with blood from a wound in his side. But as he pinned me down, and snarled, his long yellow teeth inches from my neck, he said something that made me freeze in place, unable to move. He hissed, and changed back to his human form. Before I could do anything, he spoke,
"Nkala Kingston. My student, my finest work. You had so much potential. It is a pity I will have to kill you. You chose the wrong side. After all that, you chose the wrong side, daughter," then he laughed as my form shivered, and melted away, and my human eyes looked up at him, shocked, frozen, amazed,
"Yes, Nkala, you are the daughter I never knew I had. The daughter your mother kept from me. But she should have known no secrets can be kept from me. I discovered how she had died. In childbirth. I searched for you for years. It took me four. I came to your orphanage, and watched you grow up, in the guise of a teacher. You know, you wouldn't have gotten your powers that day. Oh no, no, no. I bought them out of you. And then I took on the role of your mentor, your teacher, and I taught you well. But then you left the orphanage, and Ganovile became King, and I received word that you were headed for a Rebel camp. Well, I couldn't have that. I came to this war for the sole purpose of either turning you to my side, or killing you. After seeing you kill so many of my men, I decided turning you was no longer an option. So now I will kill you. It is a pity," then suddenly, he was a lion, and those teeth were moving closer rapidly. But they never reached me. The lion that was my father fell off me, and I saw a long spear through his side, protruding from the opposite side. I looked up, and aw a dark skinned centaur standing above me. He smiled and said,
"Ani-morph, I owed you," and I realised he was a centaur I had saved earlier. He offered me a hand, and I took it. he helped me to my feet, and said,
"You look like you need a ride. I may be of assistance there," I gaped as I realised he meant I could ride on his back. I smiled and shook my head,
"No thank-you. But would you mind if I became one of your kind?" he looked intrigued, and said,
"Of course, I would very much like to see that," so I tried something no ani-morph has tried before; I became a magical creature. It was amazing. I was human to my waist, and then a became a horse. I turned to the centaur, who looked as amazed as me, and I said,
"Let's go kill some King!" and together we galloped off.
The hours passed and many died. Many were wounded and most were still dying. The war was coming to an end and sure enough, King Ganovile called for a retreat. A group of about fifty rode and ran up to him and disappeared from sight. Against honour, a lone archer raised his bow, and sent an arrow flying over the crest. An enemy rider appeaed seconds later,
"Someone shot the King!" and the lone archer was praised and berated as one, before a group of horsemen went and rounded up the enemy soldiers, who now had no leader and no orders. Then the search for survivors continued.
As I watched, a sorcerer went to the nearest wounded soldier and dropped two drops of the potion into his cracked lips. He coughed and the wound on his side healed almost instantly. I gasped and remembering Joe, asked if I could have a few drops. But the healers refused to give me some, so I ran off in the hope of finding Joe.
As I passed the wounded soldiers, I felt a great sadness fall upon me. So many innocent lives were gone and many more were going that way. I looked around and saw the familiar sandy coloured hair of my best friend; Joe Bailey. I yelled out and ran to him. I looked at him and saw the thick arrow embedded in his side, and the blood stain spreading slowly on his shirt. I fell to my knees, my hand resting on his chest, while I cradled his head in my arms. His eyes fluttered open and I managed a choked sob in relief. I put his head down and he asked,
"Why did we agree to go to war?" he smiled faintly and his eyelids fluttered.
"Oh Joe, I don't know. Maybe it was a spur of the moment thing. I was so worried about you!"
"Why?" he asked. I looked at him, and took a deep breath, giving in to the emotions I felt raging inside,
"I love you, and if I lost you, I don't know what I would do," Joe looked slightly surprised, then he touched my cheek slightly with his bloodied hand,
"It's funny, isn't it, how easy it is to say it when nothing else matters anymore? I struggled for years to say it, and I choked every time," I looked away,
"Stuff still matters. You matter," I said quietly. Joe smiled thinly,
"Thanks, Nkala. You matter too. I love you. I always have. I always will. I...love...you," his eyes glazed, and his breathing stopped. Tears spilled over, and I collapsed over him, over the lifeless body of the man I loved.
I don't know how long I lay there, how long my tears fell, how long it took for my eyes to go dry, for my tears to dry up. But to me it took what seemed like a lifetime. And no one came.
When I looked up, the sky was clear and dark, and filled with stars. And when I looked down, I saw those beautiful points of light reflected in the eyes of Joe. Then he blinked.
Chapter Twenty-one: Life and Lights
I gasped and stumbled backwards and he breathed in and out steadily, and I looked down and saw something imposible; the arrow lay beside him, covered in his blood, but on the outside of his body. He took another breath and I could see his eyes clearing, and he blinked again. His hand went to his side, and I pulled his shirt up, only to look at the smooth, unwounded skin of his side. He looked up at me and said, his voice faint,
"I saw you, Nkala. And you were amazing. You were filled with lights, like a rainbow...and you were beautiful. And then, the lights came out of you, and came into me, and, and...and you were beautiful," I didn't understand, I couldn't understand, so I didn't try. I simply pulled him up, and kissed him. And it was good.
When I helped Joe up, and helped him get off the battle field, we were met by hundreds of people, anxiously awaiting our return. But Icould not look at them. I was too angry. I marched right u to Lady Berlin and demanded,
"Why weren't we helped? Why did no one help us? Joe was dead!" Berlin put up a slender hand,
"We could not find you. One of our best sorcerers, the best sorcerer, was searching for you, with magic, after everyone was healed and taken off the field, but he could see nothing. It was as if the entire hill vanished. Joe was dead? But he is here now, and alive, I presume," I looked away, embarrassed about my anger, but I swallowed and spoke anyway,
"When Joe....woke up again, he said something about seeing me. And inside me there were lights, like a rainbow he said, and that some of the lights came out of me and went into him. And then he was breathing and he was...alive," Berlin looked absolutely shocked, and all the colour drained from her face, and she sat down very suddenly on a nearby chair. She spoke to a wiry looking man close by,
"Is it possible?" the man looked flabbergasted,
"I, I do not know. It- it has been so long since the last time, it, it is thought of as a legend," Berlin turned ot Merlin, who said calmly,
"Most legends are, or once were, real. Maybe she is," Now i was confused and I didn't like it one little bit. I spoke,
"Seeing as I am the person being spoken about, may I know the subject, or am I to not know this big thing that is going on, that is about me?" Merlin turned to me, and said without a break,
"You may be the most powerful sorceress on Earth, with the ability to bring back the dead," then he turned away and continued his conversation to Berlin. Joe caught me before I collapsed.
I woke up a few days later in my uarters, Joe sitting by my side. He grinned at me,
"Hey, all powerful one. Guess what? Turns out you are one of those legend people, with the ability to bring back the dead. Cool, huh?" that was typical of my Joe, make joke out of any situation. I smiled, and then i said,
"So what am I called?" he grinned and said,
"Nkala Kingston, Omnipotent Ani-morph, Bringer of Life. Like it? Yeah they came up with it while you were out. I kinda prefer just Nkala, don't you?" I laughed now, and he got up and walked to my bed. He took my hand, and sat down. I took comfort in his strong grip, and he said,
"I always preferred the normal Nkala to the amazing, powerful, ani-morph, omnipotent, life bringing Nkala you've become," and then he kissed me. And it was good.