Merry Christmas to everybody who celebrates it – and especially to my friends S.H. Marr and TheLemonThief, whose fault it is that I'm posting this, because they both wanted to see these characters in their natural habitat.
Note that, given that this is in one of my original worlds, slight weirdness is to be expected, but will eventually be somewhat explained. Those who have been reading Silver in Eillen will be somewhat prepared, but you'll probably have some questions as to what's going on. Or you could just roll with it.
When I opened my eyes we were standing on a hill that erupted in red butterflies. For a long moment the sky before me was crimson with them, but they soon settled back down into the wildflowers and I got my first glimpse of the mist shrouded isle through the pointed arch before me, grey and mossy and pointing up to the diffuse cloud light of the sky above. We were standing in a knee deep bed of ferns, and the dew on them glinted crystalline. The far side of the hill sloped down to a misty shoreline where the sky blended grey into the sea.
I turned to Leah in amazement, a broad grin breaking over my face.
"Wow," I said. "Just wow."
She smiled back at me. "I thought you'd like it, Ellie."
"It's amazing." It was, too. I'd dreamed for years about all these other worlds, and now to be on one… in one…
I bent to the ground and picked up a fistful of dirt to be certain that it was real. The soil was fine and sandy and blew away out of my fingers in the gentle breeze.
I straightened up again and experienced a dizzying lurch as I saw that the horizon was far too close for comfort, and Leah made a grab for my elbow. The disorientation passed, but the horizon was still oddly close and fuzzy, and I decided to avoid looking at it for the sake of my balance.
"Are you all right?"
"You're certain?" She was far too worried about a simple wobble, and I was unsure whether I should laugh at her or glare her down.
"I'm fine, Leah," I told her, exasperated, "Absolutely fine."
She fidgeted with the hem of her shirt, which I had come to recognize meant she was going to tell me something that she didn't necessarily want to say, but thought I should probably hear anyway.
"Tell me if you're not, all right?" she said, hesitantly, "I haven't… well, I haven't brought anyone between worlds before, and there's the chance that if I screwed up, you might start being sick."
I seriously doubted that a little motion sickness would be that serious, but I nodded anyway, which appeared to satisfy her. We stood there like that for nearly half a minute.
"Well, shall we go and meet your family?" I asked finally.
She grinned. "I think that's a very good idea," she said, and suddenly darted off, through the archway and down the hill along a ragged dirt track amidst the flowers and rocks, and I had to run to keep up with her. She let out a loud war whoop as we crashed through a drift of wildflowers and surprised a jewel-like assortment of feasting hummingbirds and butterflies up into the sky. The longer I stared at it, the less blue it seemed to be, so I concentrated on Leah's pounding feet as she took all the sharp bends of the trail with ease, rounding a spur of rock swiftly enough that she disappeared, though mere feet ahead of me.
I was brought up short when, through a gap in the trees below us, I saw the castle.
It was, once I gathered my senses once more and stopped gaping at it, definitely not a proper castle, since once I got my depth perception sorted out I could tell that it was only the size of a house, and had no moat or defensive features to speak of. Not that they would have been needed way out here, beyond the reach of the ordinary mind. But there was something distinctly medieval in its mindset, the way that it perched on the short cliffs facing into the grey water that formed a small inlet facing us. After a few steps forward in order to catch up to Leah, I could see that it really did resemble a large modern house, despite the fact that it appeared to have been made entirely of mossy grey stone and had a tower sticking up in one corner over the water. The pointed windows were… odd, certainly, but I was used to the square and flat architecture of my own home. The whole place looked as if it had been constructed by people who had rejected the notion that all houses ought to look alike.
I couldn't help but grin at the sight of it. How appropriate that this house looked like it had dropped out of a fairytale.
"Told you you'd like it."
I spared a second to turn my grin on Leah once more. "It's perfect," I said, wondering whether the castle across from me explained any of her sometimes hilariously old-fashioned ideas. It had only been a few months ago that I'd been complaining to her about her spotty knowledge of modernity, usually while I tried desperately to get her to cram for a history test that she would proceed to pass by the skin of her teeth, more because she could write a persuasive essay than because she actually remembered any names or dates. Now, of course, that the idea of coming from a whole other world was standing clearly before me, I found it a little easier to forgive her abysmal knowledge of history and literature, though I wasn't quite prepared to give up on convincing her that the knowledge might come in handy later.
At the moment, however, I was more interested in a little experiment. I reached up to my face and slowly lowered my glasses just a bit so that I could peer over the rims at Leah's house.
The resulting image looked something like what would happen if you gave a modern artist a M. C. Escher print and paint buckets in all the colors of crayons. It had no order that I could determine – the closest thing I could think of was that it had been cobbled together out of snippets of ideas – but it wasn't hard on the eyes. Just unsettled. And blurry, of course, but that was my astigmatism.
"Your house is… unique," I managed, putting my glasses back on and resolving that taking them off was going to be a bad idea as long as I was staying with my friend. There were too many colors for me to even try to make sense of.
"Mom and Dad have been making and re-making it for years," Leah said, quietly, as we stood, just looking at it. "She's still complaining about how much it looks like a dark tower, or grey tower, or something. Dad just says it's appropriate for a necromancer, which she's not too pleased about."
The bottom of my stomach did an awkward little squirm. That had been the one thing that I hadn't been looking forward to. It wasn't that I didn't like Leah's mom… actually, to tell the truth, I was scared witless of her. And I'd only met her once.
Leah must have seen my concern written across my face, because she decided that some reassurance was in order.
"There's no reason to be scared," she said, then, seeing that I didn't believe it, she added, "Mom approves of you, actually. You'll be fine. I'll have to answer for all the various times I got in trouble at school this year… and knowing her, she'll have found out a way to get my report card, even from another world."
I had my doubts about whether Sabarin Trilon, renowned necromanceress, "approved" of me, but I had the sense to keep my mouth shut. Leah wasn't stupid enough to have brought me here if her family was going to make an issue about her associating with a commoner. And her mother had been pretty polite last time we'd met. Scary, but polite.
I really hoped that it hadn't been an act.
"Okay then," I said, "What's the worst she can do?"
Then I clapped a hand over my mouth. I hadn't meant to say the second part, but now that it had come out, I desperately wanted to know. I also was wondering why I'd agreed to coming, and how long I was going to be walking on eggshells.
Leah just laughed, though.
"Funny thing, it's really hard to ground someone who can just walk off to another world any time that they feel like it," she said. "The whole family learned that by personal experience. Well, that and the fact that Tess never checks before she starts blowing things up – don't worry about it, it's normal and she usually knows what she's doing, even if she forgets that normal people are asleep at three A.M. Whoever she gets as a roommate next year when she goes off to college had better start praying to whatever deity they worship."
I wasn't sure whether to snicker or be alarmed. Leah did like to talk about both her sisters, but the prospect of meeting them was still somewhat alarming to me, because from the way Leah told it, the three of them had spent their childhoods blowing things up, narrowly escaping from dangers that they'd put themselves into in the first place, and inventing magical and mundane hijinks that could drive someone as formidable as their mother insane.
"But… she's not going to be angry at you about anything?" I asked. Like the fact that you decided to spend the last year of high school on a world she's banished from because you didn't want to leave your best friend behind.
She shrugged. "My report card, maybe. I keep telling her that she doesn't have any grounds to complain, given the kind of grades she used to get, but she always assumes that I just don't try…" I bit down on the words to tell her that her mother only thought so because it was true. Leah always had something better to do than finish her essays or study for tests. "There will probably be a lot of fussing about 'wasted potential' or something like that," she continued, "but I don't think she'll be too mad. She and Dad will probably just be happy that I'm back – I haven't been around home much since I was fourteen."
It wasn't until later that I realized about the two years she'd left unaccounted for before she'd suddenly showed up in my school and made me part of her life, however reluctantly.
"You must have been a terrible teenager," I said with a smile.
"You have absolutely no idea." The tone of her voice, however, didn't invite any further questioning. And she changed the subject almost immediately. "You coming, Ell?" She'd turned away already, and was walking down the path away from me at her usual quick pace, so I hurried to catch up.
Disclaimer: You have no idea how rare it is that I give you something written in first person. I usually avoid it like the plague, and for similar reasons, but this particular story and narrator are one of the few exceptions.