Word Count: 3086 Estimated Reading Time: 15 minutes
In Chapter Four Melanie refuses to go home to her mother who is just out of rehab, again. She overhears a conversation between the centre principal and her social worker and learns something about Xanthe which might be of interest to Kit. Meanwhile, the Truth Weaver is preparing for Xanthe’s arrival at the house.
Xanthe fought hard not to turn back to Kit despite him calling out to her. She couldn’t do this anymore. Her lips trembled as she hitched her bag onto her shoulders and ran. What if she’d hurt him? She couldn’t live with herself and if she wasn’t able to control her anger without setting fire to anything that got in her way then, she was a danger to everyone.
She found herself at the Wishing Well, where it had all started two years ago. Breathing hard, she leant on the rim and peered into the darkness. She should just jump. She leaned further in, standing on her tiptoes, her hair falling in front of her. The beads on her wrist began to glow.
“I would not advise you to jump, your Highness.”
Xanthe lifted herself up a little and squinted. She recognised that haughty tone. “Horus, is that you?” Her breath was sharp, and she felt a little dizzy, having held herself almost upside down for some time. She brought herself up, sat down and swung her legs around so they dangled down into the well.
“At last, you respond. I have been out of my mind with worry. It’s not the done thing to shut off your Guardian. Malik—”
Xanthe gasped. She couldn’t see him, but she imagined those beautiful white feathers fluttering with frustration and indignation.
“I haven’t much time. I need to find a bridge. A hidden bridge.”
“Very well, as you command, your Highness. The Narwhal Bridge I presume?”
“I’ve no idea.” She lifted her head and glanced over at Bluebell wood. The smoke was fading. Kit was calling her name. “But I’ve no time for small talk. I’ll explain later.
“You need to take the path east, from the wishing well.”
“East?” Xanthe looked right and left. “Which way is East?”
Horus sighed. “Your Highness, didn’t they teach—”
“Just tell me which way. Please, Horus.”
“To your right, the opposite way from the woods. You will find a path, but first you must find the sign of the eye. It will let you through.”
Xanthe sighed. Why was there always something to figure out? “You are kidding, right?”
“I never, as you know full well, joke or kid, as you call it. You asked for my help and I’m giving it.
She cocked her head again. Voices, this time coming from the centre. This was not the time to run into Melanie and her gang. “No more time to chat, I’ve got to go.” She picked up her Book of Words, leaving her rucksack where she’d dropped it.
Xanthe jogged in a straight line, east as Horus said, which took her to a large bay hedge which she thought must be a boundary from the main road. She scoured the ground, looking for the sign, getting down on her hands and knees, patting the soil and rummaging through the crisp brown leaves that had fallen. Xanthe glanced behind her, the voices coming and going. She just couldn’t risk being seen. Not now. She heard the dulcet tones of Melanie coming round to this side of the centre and rolled herself under the hedge, forcing herself into the undergrowth. Xanthe held her breath as several pairs of feet skipped along the path, following one pair. Melanie.
“Can you hear something?” Melanie stopped and Xanthe put her hand over her mouth.
“No,” chorused the other girls.
“Mmm, I thought I heard something. Never mind. I have to go now. I need to work on the delightful Kit Stephens. He’s rather hot, don’t you think?”
The girls giggled, and Xanthe bit on her lip, drawing blood.
“Too hot for some dirty little wannabe witch. He’ll come round when he understands. I’ll see you later and tell you everything!” Xanthe rolled over and came face to face with an eye. One solitary eye. The sign. It blinked once, twice, and on the third blink, Xanthe rolled through the hedge to the other side.
The track was dusty and clouds of dirt settled on her boots as she half ran, half walked. Someone had carved a path through some tall plants which resembled bamboo. The thin stalks wafted as she passed, the leaves making whispering noises. She wondered what secrets they were telling. The shade from the growth provided a welcome cooling of her skin after her run. She kept glancing at her hands and fingers. She must remain calm. How could these produce such carnage?
The beads of her bracelet glowed and faded as she made her way along the path. Did they know where she was going. It seemed to go on forever and ever and she half wished for Kit to call out to her. But it was no good. She had to accept that she had to leave all that behind. For Kit. He would be better off without her. And she didn’t need anyone in her life, making it more complicated than it was. She just wanted to be plain old Xanthe again. Before the Kingdom. Before that so-called prophecy. Before she killed Malik.
Xanthe sobbed as the pain in her heart intensified. She paused and ran her fingers around the tattoo on her wrist.
“I’m so sorry, Malik. I never meant it to happen.”
As if in response, the howl of a wolf sounded in her head. Xanthe shook her head. Time to move on. Find this house and what it meant. She held the Book of Words out in front of her.
“Now is not the time to let me down.” she said as she gripped its edges. “I need to find that house and I need to find it now.”
She stared at the blank, creamy vellum pages for what seemed like a lifetime. They remained empty until some very faint pencil marks appeared. As if an invisible hand were painting a picture. The image developed to reveal a figure standing on a path surround by tall willowy plants. It was her. The Wishing Well Centre was way back in the distance, so she had travelled some way. The pages turned to reveal some kind of structure that crossed a stream.
A finger post appeared with a white arrow and the words Narwhal Bridge. A bridge! But how this was a bridge? It was so overgrown. She parted the bamboo and looked one way and then the other. Then back along the path in front of her. She would just have to trust her instinct and follow the path.
As she started again, a strange light shimmered in front of her, fracturing her vision. She refocused and stepped forward, but could not. The light was like a wall. She looked to the sides, feeling for an edge, but there wasn’t one. It was as if someone had erected an invisible wall. She looked upwards and then behind her. Xanthe didn’t want to go back. She couldn’t go back.
Xanthe looked through the Book of Words, hoping for a clue. The image on the page revealed the bridge at the end of the path. So she had to get there. Taking a step back, she ran at the wall with all her might, shoulder first, and closed her eyes as she made contact. She bounced against something soft and ended on the dusty ground. She stood up again and took another run. This time, she kept her eyes open and dared the structure to stop her. She tried another five times, each one of them ending on her bum on the floor.
“Okay, this is the seventh time. And I will get through.” She bit at her lip and regarded her hands. Thinking about Melanie and her jibes, smoke curled from her fingertips. She just needed to control it. She stood up and held her hands out in front of her and flicked her nails. A flame flew out and hit the wall, creating a small burnt hole. She repeated the small little flicks, increasing her control over the flame until there was a hole big enough for her to crawl through. She wasn’t sure what the substance was, but the burnt edges smelt of putrid flesh. Like food gone off.
Brushing her hands together, she took a deep breath and walked towards the overgrown bridge. There was no way she was going to get through that. She looked at her fingers. Would fire do the trick? Everything was so dry and would go up like a tinderbox, and then everyone would know where she was. The troll beads glowed one by one as if offering encouragement. Xanthe tore away some of the overgrowth and took a step forward. The ground beneath her wobbled. She took another step, and another. As she did, the vine and stalks unfurled to reveal wooden slats. She looked ahead, but had no clue how far she had to go. She’d just keep going till she got there.
With each step she took, her confidence grew that somehow she would make it. She gripped the book of words in one hand whilst keeping her balance with the other. A rustling sound forced her to stop. Was there someone else on the bridge? Or something else. Her breath stuck in her chest as something slithered over her feet and back again. She looked down. A small yellow snake with a pink diamond on its head looked up at her from the ground. It looked kind of pretty. She leant down, holding out her hand. She wasn’t frightened of a snake. Its eyes fixed on hers and she screamed silently as it raised its fangs and bit into her calf, piercing her skin like tiny needles before slithering off behind her.
“Ow,” she complained. “I was only trying to make friends.” She rubbed at the tiny pinpricks on her calf.
Kit covered the salve he’d painted onto the burns with a light gauze bandage, tightening the knot with his teeth. The fire had gone out eventually, but the soles of his boots were ruined. Luckily, the flames hadn’t spread because there was a ring of stones buried in the ground and the wind had died down. Something had been on his side, though it wasn’t Xanthe who was nowhere to be found. He had found her empty bag by the Wishing Well, but he knew that was just a diversion. She had meant what she said. She had left. He shouldn’t have lost his temper about the tattoo. Or accused her of loving Malik. If only he could turn back time. He made his way to his bedroom and found Melanie playing at his computer game.
“What do you think you are doing?” he demanded, snatching the plug from the wall. The images on the screen died. Melanie swung round in his chair and smiled at him. He crossed his arms.
“Well, I came along as your dad told me and expected the witch—I mean—Xanthe, to be here. She was supposed to be showing me the ropes. I don’t suppose you know where she is?” Melanie fixed him with a stare, her eyes large, and her gaze fell to his hand. He shoved them behind his back.
“No, I’ve not seen her…”
“Really?” Melanie cocked her head to one side. “I thought you two were close? I mean living in the same house and all that.”
Kit’s neck warmed, and he bit the inside of his lip. This wasn’t the time to get all embarrassed. He eyed some papers on the desk, notes written in Xanthe’s handwriting.
“What are those?”
“Oh, just some notes the witch, I mean Xanthe, left for me. What to do and how to do it. Perhaps she’s jealous that your dad wanted me to help out, and she’s gone off in a huff. Do witches get in a huff.” She giggled rather too loudly.
Kit stared at Melanie’s mean mouth. She had it in for Xanthe, didn’t she?
“So why aren’t you doing what she’s says there is to be done? I think my father is paying you for your time. Not to enter my room without permission and play computer games.”
Melanie squirmed like a worm before straightening her shoulders and sticking out her chin.
“Well, after we talked and you telling me all that stuff, about Xanthe, you know I was...” she bit on her lip, searching for the right word. “Intrigued?” She spoke the word without conviction. “Well, wouldn’t you be if you had a friend that turned out to be a witch?
Kit turned to her, “Friend? Really?. Melanie’s arms hung by her side, her shoulders rounded.
“Well, kind of, we’ve lived together like sisters for what seems like forever. It’s not my fault that Xanthe doesn’t want-”
“To be part of your gang?” Kit snatched the notes to see if Xanthe had left him a message. Nothing.
“It’s not a gang. I can’t help it if I’m popular,” retorted Melanie. Kit raised an eyebrow and stifled a snort. Melanie wasn’t all she made out to be. At heart, she was a coward.
“You have so many books,” said Melanie, trying to make conversation. He really wished she would just go away.
He held the door open. “I think you should leave.”
Melanie stood up. “What did you do to your hands?” She sniffed. “Are they burnt?”
Kit looked at the floor. “Just. Please. Leave.
“She did, didn’t she? Like she did in my room. And no-one believed me. Not one person!”
“No, it didn’t happen like that. Now, please, I’m sure you want to make a good impression on my father.”
Melanie stood in front of him and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, I don’t believe you Kit Stephens. That little witch has a lot to answer for. She made me the laughingstock of the centre.”
“You can do that all on your own,” Kit murmured.
Melanie frowned, her nose wrinkling with fury. “Well, you won’t want to hear what I find out from the principal and social worker then.” She stepped right up to him. He smelled stale smoke masked by peppermint gum she always chewed. He backed away.
“You know nothing about Xanthe.” But it intrigued him. Why would the principal be talking to a social worker about her?
Any information on Xanthe would be useful. He wondered how she would feel knowing that they were poking their noses into her personal life. She wouldn’t be happy. Oh, where are you, Xanthe? Kit still didn’t believe that she didn’t want to find her mum, but he couldn’t make her want to. And he shouldn’t have said the things he said about Malik. That had been wrong. He’d let his jealousy get the better of him, but he’d just seen red. His hands throbbed. She hadn’t meant to start the fire. He knew she struggled to control the power, but just pretending that it wasn’t happening would not help. She was frightened. He saw that now he’d stood back a bit. There was no way he would blame her, whatever Melanie claimed she saw.
“Fine, suit yourself.” Melanie walked out of the door. “I have work to do.” And she flounced off.
Kit slumped in his chair. There was no way he was going after Melanie. She would tell him. Eventually. She wouldn’t be able to stop herself.
He glanced back at the door to make sure that Melanie had gone and moved some of his textbooks to one side and reached into the dark corner of the shelf. He withdrew a small jar with a fine filigree silver top and rolled it in his palm. The grey dust followed the motion of the phial, as if it were alive. He half expected something to happen as he shook it and stared, mesmerised by the swirls. He didn’t understand why he’d brought the phial back with him. Or why he’d take it in the first place. He’d taken a small part of the pile of ash that had once been Toovah, before Xanthe destroyed her by fire. Did he need to be reminded that the evil dryad? That Xanthe had killed her and saved him at the same time. He bit in his bottom lip.it was Malik who had saved him, protecting him from being stabbed by the silver dagger.
This time, the fire spell had been different. He’d seen the fear in Xanthe’s eyes. She didn’t know how to control it and it seemed to intensify the more angry she got. He put his fingers on either side of his forehead and tried to focus. She still wouldn’t let him in, wouldn’t let him talk to her through mind transfer as they had learnt to do in the Kingdom. “Xanthe, please. I just want to help.”
He placed the phial on his desk. He had every intention of telling Xanthe what he’d done. But then she had gone all distant on him. And she had refused to talk about back then, acting as if nothing had ever happened. That it had all been something they’d dreamt up or acted out in a computer game. He rubbed the scar on his hand. An identical scar to Xanthe’s in the same place. They had shared blood and there was no getting away from that. They were connected. Whatever she thought. And so he had never found the right opportunity. It was just dust, and he’d only taken a little, like a trophy. Yet still, it felt more macabre than something to celebrate.
A clap of thunder thumped above him, and he jumped out of his chair in fright. He would have to get rid of it somehow. He didn’t think that Xanthe would understand or even care. What she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her, right? He missed being in the Kingdom. It had been the one time when he’d felt special. Since his mother had left anyhow. She had always made him feel special. It had been exciting, despite the dangers, an adventure. His mother would have loved to hear the tale. Maybe one day, when his father had forgiven her for whatever it was she had done to him.
Xanthe can’t have gone far. She had no money, no phone, no nothing. No friends, thought Kit as he transcribed the symbols, none of which made sense. But Melanie might be right. Maybe Xanthe hadn’t gone far and really needed help. Perhaps she was waiting to be found. He couldn’t abandon her now, not after everything they’d been through. He shouldn’t have goaded her about Malik. It hadn’t been fair. He knew about the other tattoo, how it had just appeared. This new one must be the same, but what did it mean?
The sixth episode of Thunder Moon will be posted next Friday at midnight. This first book in the the serialisation of The Luna Legends is free to all my subscribers and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for your support.