Opal sat alone, in the room she’d once shared with Margery, and waited. Sleeping was much harder without the girl Opal had thought of as her sister and every time her aunt looked at her she knew the older woman wished it had been Margery who survived. There were times, normally late at night, when Opal wished it had been Margery too, even though she was grateful be alive, and her ability meant that at least she could still talk to Margery, unlike her aunt. Everyone looked at the family differently, because they all knew Margery had died during the blooming process.
“It’s not your fault,” Margery said, appearing on the bed next to Opal. “There was nothing you could do to stop what happened, there was nothing Aurora could do, and I’m…” She sighed. “Being dead isn’t as bad as it seems, Opal. I would have liked to live longer, or have had a chance to say goodbye to Mum, but I don’t regret what’s happened.”
Running a hand through her hair, Opal smiled at Margery. “I know it’s not my fault.” She sighed. “I just miss you. In my memories we are always together and now you’re not here.”
“Blooming is always dangerous. Everyone knows that.” Margery shrugged. “Controlling the power that suddenly filled me was impossible, even with Aurora doing all she could to help. You were simply better than me at controlling our shared power.”
“What was it like for you?” They’d talked before, but not about blooming, because Opal hadn’t wanted to bring it up. “To begin with it seemed like pain was the only thing that still existed. If it hadn’t been for that drink Aurora gave me I don’t think I would have been able to cope with it.”
Margery nodded. “I remember the pain. It did fade away to almost nothing when Aurora gave me her herbal concoction and I felt sure then that everything would be okay, but then I felt the power. The wave took me by surprise, even though I guess I should have expected it, and I panicked. Aurora’s voice was helping a little because it was more soothing that I expected, but it wasn’t enough.”
“It was Aurora’s voice that brought me through the first wave of power. I’m certain if she hadn’t been there we would both be in the same position now.”
For a few moments Margery studied Opal, as though they’d never seen each other before. “I don’t know, Opal. If one of us was going to come through the blooming process I think it was always going to be you.” Margery smiled. “There’s something special about you.”
Opal shook her head. “I don’t think there is.”
“Do you know how rare it is for someone to survive blooming on Sauin’s Day?”
“Aurora never mentioned anything about it being rare.”
“It’s something she has no way of knowing. There’s a wealth of knowledge here I can pass on to you, if you want me to, so we can help people in the future.”
“I…” Opal shook her head. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Margery.”
Margery looked at Opal, her eyes looking so different to how they’d looked when she was alive, and Opal knew that the afterlife had taught Margery a lot in the short time she’d been there. “You’re the first bloomer to survive blooming on Sauin’s Day for decades, with a rare ability that no one really understands. With Aurora’s help more people are surviving the process and as the number of people grows so does the need for information on the powers they will have.”
“She has her book.”
“For someone who’s learning mostly by trial and error, and with the help of the records they have up in the mountains, she’s doing amazingly well.” Margery smiled. “She’s surprised a lot of people. That’s why they want to help her. Until Aurora no one was trying to gather all the information together, but then it is something they understand. Living in our world… it isn’t easy.”
Opal, staring at the ceiling instead of Margery, sighed. “Let me talk to Aurora before I make a decision.”
“That was exactly what I was going to suggest you did, although…” As Opal looked over, wondering what the problem was, Margery shook her head. “She does know a little about the abilities someone born on Sauin’s Day will have. I think she hasn’t talked to you about it because she didn’t want to scare you, and, as you haven’t mentioned it, she can’t be sure if you have the ability or not.”
“Plus she’s had a lot on her mind recently.” Opal smiled. “Apparently Harrison and Griffin have been working on a plan to get Griffin into the kingdom without anyone working out who he really is.”
Raising an eyebrow Margery laughed. “If those two begin working together it’s going to change our kingdom for the better.”
“Do you have some way of seeing the future?” Opal asked.
“We don’t lose our powers when we die, Opal.” Margery reached out and gently stroked Opal’s shoulder. “My ability to talk to the dead is different here, because I don’t need to talk to the dead, but I can still use all the other powers I would have had if I’d survived blooming. Precognition is one of the powers a couple of people here have and as I’m the girl with the cousin who can talk to the dead I get told about things that may help in the future.”
“Really? You still have powers when you’re dead?”
Nodding, Margery sat on the end of the bed. “It was unexpected to say the least. I have a couple of interesting teachers who are doing their best to help me understand my powers and in some ways I can’t help being glad that I died. At the same time I wish I was still there, with you.” Margery sighed. “Oh, and I’d better warn you that Mother is thinking about asking you to move out, because she finds looking at you difficult with me gone. I wish I could do something about it, but that isn’t possible.”
“I could see it coming,” Opal said, trying to hide how she really felt when she heard that her aunt was really that unhappy about her survival. “At least with your warning I can prepare for it because I know it will happen.”
“Don’t, Margery. She’s allowed to hurt. Losing your daughter…” Opal shook her head. “I can’t imagine how difficult things must be for her.”
“After raising the two of us together she should view you as her daughter too.”
“Emotions aren’t that simple. You are the daughter she gave birth to and I was the burden placed upon her when my mother died.” Biting her lip, Opal looked at Margery, trying to gather enough courage to ask a question she’d wanted to ask ever since she realise she could talk to the dead. “Is Mum… does she want to talk to me?”
“I don’t know, Opal. I haven’t seen her yet, but when I do I’ll ask her. I promise.” From the way Margery looked at her Opal knew that her emotions were written all over her face. “She probably doesn’t even know I’m here yet. This place… it’s huge, Opal, and there are spirits here from the day our world was first inhabited.”
Opal stared at Margery, trying to work out which question was the most important. “First inhabited?”
“We didn’t evolve, like some races, but we were placed here by another race, who, some believe, brought us here to save us. There was an illness… one of the spirits I’ve met was the first of our race and he remembers everything. He’d be happy to talk to you about it, but he thinks it something that you shouldn’t tell too many people.” Margery smiled. “My reaction was one of total disbelief until he took me into his memories.”
“Did we have magic originally?”
Margery shook her head, still smiling. “We have magic because this world is magical. I don’t know if they knew that the world they were putting us on had magic or if it wasn’t something that crossed their mind. I can’t imagine why they would have thought all that much about what they were doing, when it seems like they were simply doing what they could to help a race who were in trouble.”
“I don’t know if I believe you.”
“I might, if you’re up for an experiment, be able to show you what I was shown. It’s something new I’m learning.”
There was a moment when Opal wanted to say no, but the hope on Margery’s face stopped her. “What do we do?”
“You just need to open your mind. I need to focus, so stay quiet for me otherwise this might go wrong.”
Breathing deeply Margery put her hand onto the side of Opal’s head and Opal tried to stay as still as possible, even though Margery’s hand was freezing cold. Their eyes met for a moment, so Opal could see the focus in Margery’s eyes, but that didn’t stop her from worrying that something was going to go wrong. Seconds later Margery’s eyes changed in such a way that Opal knew for certain she was looking into the face of someone else.
“It worked,” a male voice said, sounding happily surprised. “Look around you, Opal.”
Opal wanted to hide how uncomfortable she felt and looking around seemed like the best way of making it happen, until she realised she was standing outside a small hut. She shivered, glancing back at Margery, who was slowly changing to look like the man who’d spoken. “What have you done?” Opal asked, hearing the fear in her own voice, even though she hated showing such weakness to someone she didn’t know.
“Margery shared my memories with me and now she’s sharing them with you. This is nothing more than a vision. You’re still safe and sound in your bedroom, while being here at the same time, so you can learn about how we came to be here.”
Biting hard on her lip Opal nodded. “Who are you?”
“I’m Haidar.” Haidar smiled, but it faded as he looked around. “Margery wanted to show you what happened when we first arrived here and I lived in that hut for nearly five years. Even though I hated it to begin with I was sad to leave it behind, because it became my home, no matter how small it was.” He sighed. “One hundred of us stepped onto this world, each of us carrying a small bag, to find these huts and a small farm. We had nothing else, so we had to learn very quickly how to survive.”
“That sounds…” Opal turned slightly, but not enough for the hand to fall off her head, and looked at the hut, wondering how she would have dealt with that situation. “…terrifying.”
“We were terrified, because we didn’t know where we were, why we’d been stranded here, or anything about this world. I was sixteen and the last thing I remembered was an illness that was sweeping through my village. Apparently we were the only survivors, so we’d been brought here for our continued survival, but that meant we couldn’t bring anything with us. The bags we were given contained clothes none of us had ever seen before and we had no reminders of the people or the world we’d left behind.” Haidar shivered. “None of us slept the first night. Instead we gathered together around a fire we’d built, thinking that we’d plan what our next step was going to be, but all we did was sit there in silence staring at the flames.”
“How did you survive?”
“Pure luck, I think.” Haidar shook his head. “A couple of people took over a farm we found, knowing we needed to grow food, otherwise we were going to starve to death. We had three hunters with us, who went out to see if there was anything they could hunt, while others decided to make fishing rods and the rest of us went out foraging, even though it we were going to have to try everything to find out if it was poisonous or edible. During the first month we lost six people because of the experimentation we had to do.”
“When I think of my town six people means very little, it’s not unusual for that many to die in a month because something went wrong on their blooming day, but when they are only a hundred of you…” Opal looked around once more. “It must have been hard for your community to lose them.”
Haidar nodded. “You’re right, but there were also births during that time, so we looked on it as an investment for our future. Six of us died so the rest could survive and bring up those children, who would later become just as useful as the people we lost. Without them sacrificing themselves we wouldn’t have had the food we needed to be able to survive before those of us who’d chosen to work on the farm could harvest their produce for the first time. Even though whoever it was that brought us here told us it was to ensure our survival I started to disbelieve them when I realised exactly how little we had. They had thought of shelter and we were close enough to the river for us to have fresh water daily, but we needed food too. We hadn’t been left anything we could use to hunt with, or fishing poles, or even a guide as to what was safe for us to eat. What I believe they were doing was getting rid of us, due to whatever illness it was that we had, and dumping us here meant they didn’t have to worry they may also become ill.”
“How did we come to have magic?” Opal asked, beginning to feel a little more comfortable with Haidar, although it was still strange to see someone else in her cousin’s body. “Margery said it wasn’t something you had when you originally arrived here.”
“It wasn’t. That’s something that evolved in time and Sauin was truly the first of us to bloom. It wasn’t something he could know at the time, there was always a chance someone else had gone through the same process without saying anything, but they hadn’t. Everyone else who bloomed followed Sauin. We don’t know why, we don’t know why we have magic, and they are things we may never know.”
“Could it have had something to do with the race that placed us here?”
“There is a chance it might have something to do with them. I don’t know what was going through the heads of the race who put us here, but I do know the way the people who dropped us off here looked at us made me think they were afraid, which I believe might have been due to the illness that we’d had. It makes the most sense that they were afraid they might catch whatever it was, probably because they knew that when they returned they would be quarantined to make certain that they were free of whatever it was that ailed us. If they died it would have been because of us. Getting rid of us as quickly as possible did seem important to them. Had they done more surviving here would have been much simpler.” Haidar shrugged. “As they didn’t…”
“So you truly believed that you were left here to die?”
“I do, but it’s not a belief shared by the others of us who were left here. They appear to want to see the race that left us here as our saviours.”
“Is there any particular reason for that?” Opal asked, studying Haidar. Even though he was still Margery the differences between the two of them were beginning to become more obvious to Opal and she knew the emotions were his. “Did they talk about why they saw the race that left you here that way?”
“We talked about everything, Opal,” Haidar replied, almost smiling. “Especially during the first season we were here, as that was when the days were still lengthening and we often spent the dark hours before we could sleep going over everything, as we weren’t used to not having artificial light. Building a fire the first night was fine, but the choice we made was that it was important that we learnt to rise with the sun and sleep when it became dark, in order to better learn the way the world we had found ourselves on worked. As the days got longer we had more time to spend working in the fields, or hunting for other food, or just generally exploring, because we wanted to know if there were other people here.
“Some of us wanted there to be, in the hope that they would trade with us, so we could have candles once more and things to write with, but the explorers went for miles in all directions, leaving behind poles to guide them, and didn’t find anyone else. It was hard to believe that we were the only ones here, a hundred of us to populate the entire world, and yet that seemed to be the way things were. Of course there was only so far they could go before they had to return. We had no idea if there were predators out there who might eat our explorers if they stayed out overnight or if there were other settler somewhere who’d already found us and were waiting for the best time to get one of us alone.
“From the beginning I had trouble believing that there was anyone here, because I didn’t think the race who left us would have placed us on an inhabited world if they truly were scared of whatever illness it was that we had. They wouldn’t have wanted to have given it to anyone else, either, and as I thought we had been left here, in the hope that we would die, or, at the very least, not make anyone else ill, placing us somewhere with another group of people would mean that there was a chance we might have passed on whatever illness it was we had.” Haidar sighed. “I could be wrong about why we were left here. Maybe they really were trying to save us. I just have real trouble thinking that a race who wanted us to survive would have left us with so little.”
Opal bit her lip. “Even though I’ve only heard from you so far, and I would need to talk to someone who believed that you were left here in order to ensure your continued survival, I have trouble believing they would have left you with so little too. If you want someone to survive you do your best to help them, but they seemed to do everything they could to make it hard for you.”
“They didn’t care about us, Opal,” Haidar said. “A long time ago that bothered me, but now… things have changed so much since then. Our little settlement grew. We thrived in a situation that I didn’t believe we would be able to survive for a year, because we worked together to make it happen, even though we did have disagreements. For a decade, as our community grew, we managed to sort out those disagreements, although we knew that the time would come when it wouldn’t be possible to do that and our group would splinter. It was in the twelfth year that it happened the first time.
“I’m not certain exactly what happened, even now. There was an argument over what our next step should be and the elders couldn’t agree.” He smiled. “Of course our elders aren’t what you would think of as elders now, due to the age of the people who were left here, but they were the group we accepted as our leaders, in part because they were the eldest of the group. As I’m sure you can understand that sort of thing wasn’t unusual – three of the elders thought it was still most important for us to focus on survival, knowing that there might be a bad harvest at any point and it was something they wanted us to be ready for, while the other elder thought it was more important to explore, to learn more about the world we had been left on.
“Honestly I think we all wanted to know more, but in the end it was around sixty people who left, to travel, to explore, to learn about our world, taking with them the supplies we could spare, and we never saw them again. It wasn’t until I died I found out what happened to them, as they were on the other side and willing to talk. Here we talk to learn, to understand, to work out why certain things happened, although most of the spirits here have chosen to live other lives. I’m the only one who is still the same person I was when I came here, because I knew the time would come when I was needed once again, to tell the stories I’ve told before. The problem, as it always has been, is that we aren’t comfortable with change or with people who are different, and this is something you’re dealing with yourself.
“Normally this wouldn’t be something you would learn so soon after your bloom, but the problem with being able to talk to the dead is that even the other magic users can become jealous of your ability, even though it isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. Being born on Sauin’s Day gives you one of the most difficult abilities to learn to deal with, because it won’t be long before other spirits realise who you are and come to you, asking for favours, for you to talk to their loved ones, for you to pass on something you really shouldn’t, which can make people begin to hate you for something you never chose. Sadly, it’s jealousy that’s led to the death of the majority of magic users with your ability, including Sauin.”
“The only person who knows is Aurora.” Opal bit her lip. “She’s the only person I trust enough to tell. Even before she saved my life I knew what she was doing, because she’s always been prepared to help anyone who needs it. I would never be able to do what she does, Haidar, I am so grateful that she does, as I wouldn’t have survived without her.”
“Would you like to know who Aurora is descended from?” Haidar asked, smiling. It took Opal a moment to decide and when she nodded she knew it was purely for Aurora. “Do you know much about Calix?”
“He killed his sister…” Opal trailed off. “What little I know about him I doubt is true. I studied him in school, because he was the first magic user to be executed, although they said he was executed for killing his sister.”
“I’m glad to hear you don’t believe what you were taught is true, as none of it is. Felicia bloomed on her eighteenth birthday, even though both her brothers were desperately hoping that she wouldn’t. The woman they both believed was most dangerous to them actually turned out to be on their side and she helped Felicia and Calix get to safety, along with some books she had found on magic, knowing that the time would come when they’d be destroyed, so she believed they would be better off in the mountains. Calix wasn’t executed, but the family made it known that he had been, which changed things. Before that there had been a delicate balance.
“After the faked execution that was destroyed and other magic users tried to kill the King, believing that he’d executed his son because he had magic. They couldn’t be told the truth as it wouldn’t be long before one of the Kings who ruled the other kingdoms did something to make certain that Atecia’s King was doing the right thing. Unfortunately the attacks on the King led to more executions, which led to more attacks, and it was a terrible cycle that they knew they had to create to protect Calix and Felicia. In the mountains everyone heard about what was happening, including the two siblings, but they couldn’t do anything to stop it – no matter how much they hated it they’d known it was coming from the time they started their journey.
“Both Felicia and Calix made lives for themselves, even though they never thought they would. Felicia started a family first, having two daughters and a son, who all bloomed. Calix’s lover had three sons and two daughters, and two of them, a son and a daughter, were sent to his lover’s aunt after their eighteenth birthday because they didn’t bloom. Aurora is descended from Calix’s daughter on her father’s side. Honestly I don’t think they should have returned the children to Atecia, as they knew it was possible that their grandchildren might bloom, but they wanted the children who could live a real life to have that chance, which is something I can understand. Living in the mountains isn’t easy, although sometimes it does seem to me like those who are born there find it much simpler than those who travel there.”
Opal nodded. “How much is there for me to learn, Haidar?”
“Far more than we can go over in one night.” He smiled at her. “I think the best thing for us to do is come back to this another night. You already have much to think about, and you need to decide if you’re going to talk to Aurora about this. She, I believe, should be able to confirm some of what I’ve told you from the books that survive in the mountains. At the very beginning we couldn’t write down what was happening, unfortunately. There were those of us who tried to make sure our stories were passed down the generations, but I don’t think it worked out the way we hoped it would.”
“I do have a lot to think about.” Their eyes met, and Opal could see the tiredness Haidar felt. “It’s hard for the two of you to do this, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, but we both wanted you to see this. We felt it was important. I think it might take a little while for Margery to be able to visit you again.”
“Tell her I love her.”
With that the image around Opal faded away, and she found herself back in her bedroom. She nibbled her lip, staring at the wall in front of her, trying to work out what her next steps were going to be. One of the most important was finding herself somewhere to live. Maybe she could talk to Aurora about that, and about everything she’d learnt at the same time.<<< Aurora’s World: Atecia: Aurora: The Morning***Aurora’s World: Atecia: Aurora: Harrison And Griffin’s First Meeting >>>