We Ordinary Few
They stood there, in the pouring rain, waiting for the end of the world.
It was always the end of the world, in a child’s eye. A year lived to a five year old is a millennia, a day a decade of turbulence and revolution. Time moves like molasses when one’s running through their fathers’ poppy garden at the speed of sound, the most minor changes an earthquake rocking the world out of orbit.
This change was anything but minor.
“Quiet down, imbecile,” the white Usul quietly shouted at her brother, scowling. The bushes shook in Bale’s violent tremors, nearly calling the attention of an old Usul in black robes, nearly entering the mouth of a stone doorway. The gentleman’s eyes flickered crimson under the hood of his robe, his fur colored the same shade as black holes in Bella’s imagination—subtle. Magnificent. Sucking in whatever and whoever came too close. “I can only barely see papa.”
“You’re hogging the view,” Bale whined, shoving his sister aside. “We shouldn’t even be here. Papa will leave us in the Woods, if he finds out we’re here.”
(Bella loved the Woods.
She’d wake up two hours before anyone in the mansion did, sneaking out into the grove beyond the graveyard. It was always quiet, in the Woods. Everything was pleasantly still. Life, even the one in father’s mansion, was calamitous, loud, irritating. Too many thoughts. Too many voices. Too many things to worry of.
There were no thoughts in the Woods.
Fortunately for her, the dead don’t think.)
“I don’t particularly like being bossed around,” she said, boldly. “You might, because you’re just like that, little brother. You’re always begging someone to rub their dirty shoes on your face.”
“I’m not your little brother. We’re twins,” Bale argued, as if it was the only thing that affronted him.
Bella rolled her eyes. She returned to the figure walking into the open catacombs, entering the warm, menacing red and gold lights. Thoughts. Too many thoughts, even then, circling the old man’s narrow mind. I can’t do this anymore, they told her, repeating things she already knew. I can’t do this anymore. Penelope—
Penelope wouldn’t have wanted it.
She wouldn’t have wanted any of it.
But Bella didn’t understand that. One understands little at her age, and it was for the better. Curiosity. It’s holding your fingers just above a fire to see what burning feels like. She’s done it more than a few times, but it didn’t mean she understood. She hasn’t felt pain. She hasn’t felt the fire as it licked her skin, biting at her fur.
“Let’s go,” the young girl says, bursting out of the bush and into the rain.
She dragged her brother into the catacomb, tiptoeing down the approaching staircase. Thoughts sprung at her immediately, voices, callous plots. Something about blood suckers, spirits, witches, monsters, herding the Babaas and feeding the Werelupes. Adult talk, hidden behind thin metaphors. There was nothing worse than it.
“What are they saying?” Bale nudged her. They stood by the staircase, walking towards a grand balcony carried by stone pillars, a party of familiar faces walking below it. A chandelier hung, close enough for a particularly elongated gentleman to touch from the balcony, but not close enough for them. “What are they thinking, Bella?”
Bella squished his foot, and he winced. “Be quiet,” she said. She could hear her father from the throng of voices. “I’m listening.”
They crept towards the railings, looking down at the people. Bella watched her father as he spoke to a yellow Vandagyre in a suit, his gold tie catching her eye. “It’s good to see you here, Jay,” the Gold Tie said, drawing a glass of punch to his beak. “Since your—er—mistake, you’ve been rather distant from the Guardians. And it’s been a bother. The Guardians need a man of your importance.”
Deep pockets grant a foolish head; associating with a witch, she heard the Vandagyre reflect, harshly, I’m surprised Lady Wayland hasn’t kicked him out of Neovia entirely. Let him rot with the rest of the flock, I say; he’s too stained for our league.
Her father grinned, half-heartedly. “Well, it’s a good thing I’m here then,” he joked. Don’t you dare call her a mistake, she heard him think. She’s not a mistake; being associated with you lot is.
He didn’t say that, though. It’d be unkind.
And, for some reason, she’d found that being proper to others was the only reason why any of them should exist.
The assembly was silenced by the clinking of glass, all eyes falling on a shadow Xweetok with graying white hair standing among them. She was dressed in a flowing black gown, puffs at the shoulders, a tightened corset and a pair of white gloves. The glass descended, and her posture struck obedience into the gatherings hearts, her words laced with power. “Thank you for attending this weeks’ meeting, everybody.” She said, languidly. “I have good and bad news for the Guardians. The good news is we’ve caught a Werelupe amongst our ranks.”
Everybody clapped, their thoughts running on rampage, images of shredded fur and claws. The only one without vigor was her father, images of a white Zafara and lightning roaming his head. The Xweetok, whose name Bella realized was Wayland, smiled. There was nothing but red in her thoughts. “He’s been detained, and soon we shall banish him into the mountains. And for that, we can be glad.” her smile was still, before suddenly deflating. “Other news, however, have proven less than pleasant.”
Everything was quiet.
“We suspect that there is a witch living in Neovia, disguising herself as a school teacher,” Wayland explained. There was chatter in the room, stopped only by her quiet glare. “Now, we’ve shown mercy towards witches before. They do no harm, as long as they do not affect the apathy of our citizens. But this teacher—though she’s not explicitly doing it at school, I’m afraid she’s teaching children magic.”
Now the crowd was in frenzy. Wayland rung her glass once again, scowling. “Calm yourself. We are a sophisticated civilization, not a faction of sophistry.” Bella thought they were. Several years later, she’d learn that they were nothing but. “We shall not let these renegades deter our growth, infect the generations after us. No monster shall touch Neovia. No witch shall disrupt our peace. We are above, beyond, yet cozily insignificant. We are all ordinary. And we shall keep it as such.”
Everybody clapped, once more, and she received a more disturbing picture from Wayland’s head. A woman—she wasn’t sure who—a Xweetok, running for her life.---
It was ten years after.
“You have fierce dreams, Miss Norwell,” Bella pulled her fingers from the strangers’ head, gently caressing her chin. “But you’ll be fine, so long as you keep them to yourself.”
The white Xweetok nodded. Her eyes were dry with tears. “Thank you, Miss Chorsicks,” she spoke, softly.
Bella stood up. She pulled up her white sleeves, wiping off the sweat from her forehead. She looked out the window of the little shack in the Woods, contemplating under the light of Kreludor. “I’m not allowed to meddle with your kind,” she reminded herself, though for some reasons she’d said it aloud. “I’ll have to leave you to yourself, after this. You’ve done well on your own. If the Guardians were to ever harm you--”
“I’ll come here,” the stranger finished. “Not your home.”
The telepath smiled. She put her hand on the woman’s forehead, murmuring an incantation. “Sleep,” she whispered. And that was what happened.
The night was still young. She tucked the witch in with ragged blankets, leaving the shack and closing the door behind her. The little home she’d set up for whatever target the Guardians were hunting didn’t stop half of them from being, at best, wounded and evicted, would never hold them for long. She knew that. Even as a young girl, she understood that there were no villains in the world, no heroes as well; it’s the winners who save the world and the defeated who destroy it. And, inevitably, she was to destroy a number of them.
But, if anything, she’d destroy one that doesn’t deserve to be saved.
“It’s nearing twelve,” her father said, standing by the staircase just as she’d walk through the mansion doors. Arms crossed, firm faced, scowling. Pathetic. Bella remained silent, hiding the leaves from her trousers. “Where have you been?”
“If you’re allowed your secrets, I’m allowed mine,” she shot back, walking to the lobby. She threw her satchel onto the couch, picking up a book from the coffee table.
Jay Chorsicks strode towards the girl, picking a branch off her platinum blonde hair. He scrutinized it intensely, but she knew he’d only one thought in his head. “You’ve been going to that shack, haven’t you?” he started. She refused to look at him. “Tell me who’ve you brought in this time.”
“Tell me what happened to my mother,” she tossed back, “And perhaps I’ll consider it.”
Her father fumed, throwing the branch and crushing it under his feet. “You don’t need to be told, you stubborn little girl,” he said, “Not everybody in this household’s a--”
He stopped. Bella glared at him, closing her book. “A what, father?” her voice was cool, calmly provocative. “What am I to you?”
But he couldn’t say it. She knew he couldn’t say it. Bella stood up, smirking. “Oh, I’ve forgotten, haven’t I?” she said. “It wouldn’t be proper to say it. Would it?” she marched to the doorway of the lobby, before looking back to stare at her father for a little while longer. “Just as it wouldn’t have been proper to save Penelope.”
She walked away then, up the staircase, leaving her father to his own thoughts.
“I was just about to look for you,” Bale said when she got to the second floor study, closing a tome with triangle marks and an S on it. “I heard father screaming. What did you do?”
Bella groaned, and simultaneously chuckled. “You always assume it’s me who started the argument.”
“You tend to be the renegade of the family, yes.”
She rolled her eyes, tousling the Zafara’s hair while picking up his book. A conspiracy novel dressed up as a non-fiction: The Sway. “Dull and stagnant, but nonetheless true,” she put it back in his hands. “Have a look at Strings and Marionettes; it at least has better prose.”
Bale arched a brow. “The Sway is an actual organization?”
“A secret one, yes.”
“And how would you know that?”
Bella shrugged. She took a book from the nearest bookcase, rifling through its content. “Mrs. Potter is an agent of theirs,” she said, casually. “She’s trying to figure out why Neovia remains untouchable to their controls, no matter how many agents they put in. The Guardians are thinking of kicking her out.”
The Zafara considered her statement, before chuckling. “Remind me to thank Fyora you can read me.”
“And who told you that?”
“Nobody. I’ve just seen it.” he smiled. “I just know it.”
She looked at him, curiously. “Why?”
He shook his head. He was right, of course—she couldn’t see through him. She could only pick up silence, silence and static. “You’re comfortable with me,” he said. “You really shouldn’t be comfortable with me.”
Bella chuckled. “I’d be comfortable no matter what nonsense you have in that head,” she claimed. “You’re Bale Chorsicks.”
He could only grin, sadly. ---
“And where is she now?”
“She’s in the shack,” The gentleman in the shadow said. Wayland sipped at her tea. “Bella’s been keeping her for some time. All you need to do is have a servant follow her there, and the witch will be yours.”
“Mr. Chorsicks, this information is infinitely useful to us,” the Xweetok said. The sunlight streamed through the window, blocked by the red curtains. “But you realize that we’ll have to take your Bella as well. Considering what she’s done.”
The man paused. “Give her time. I’ll convince her,” he said. “I can guarantee it.”---
She heard the scream from a distance away.
“Emily!” Bella rushed to the spot where the Xweetok once was, pushing past the trees. She found the shack in ruins, Emily being carried away by several burly men. One of them, a Tonu, she recognized from the Guardians meeting of her childhood.
Rage built into her breath. “Don’t you dare touch her,” she said, once, charging at them. “Don’t you dare touch her.”
The Tonu turned to her. He chuckled. “And here’s the white witch, coming to protect her friend,” he said. “I was ordered not to hurt you, sweetheart, so you might want to back--”
He didn’t get to finish his statement. The Usul shot a hand at his face, giving him a bruise at the eye. The Tonu growled, throwing a punch at Bella, but before it could hit her she’d put a finger on his forehead. “Sleep,” she whispered, and that was what he did.
Watching his colleague fall, one of the others (a Grarrl) roared, swinging her towards a tree. She landed with a painful grunt, straining to get back up. “What did you do to him, eh?” the Grarrl said. She felt a hand on her collar, drawing her up. “Wake him up, witch!”
She did the exact opposite. She brought her fingers on the Grarrls forehead, whispering “Sleep” and without much effort, they both came toppling down.
She pushed the Grarrl’s fingers aside, barely standing up. She could feel thoughts behind her, violent thoughts. Now it’s your turn to sleep, witch. A shadow crept from behind her—
A rock was thrown from a distance, and the Techo behind her fell. A shadow Zafara emerged in the corner of her vision, embracing her tightly. “Bella? Bella, stay with me,” Bale pleaded. “Can you hear me?”
She nodded, weakly. Emily. Emily. “I—I need to--” she pushed her brother away, looking to the fallen witch. “Emily--”
“No, no, we need to get you home--”
“Let me go, Bale--”
“You let her go, first.” He stared at Bella, frowning. “This is insanity. You can’t keep this up forever, Bella. Your friend there isn’t one of us. She’ll never be one of us. The Guardians, they’ll get to her eventually.”
“I can’t just--” she stopped. I’ll end them, she thought. I’ll end them all. “I can’t just leave her--”
“Just this once.” He looked her in the eye. “Just this once, please.”
Bella froze in her place, trapped in silence. The White Witch. It would be a fitting name for herself. “Alright,” she lied, nodding to her brother. “Alright.” ---
The catacombs were busy that time of the year, filled with uncertain life and busybodies. The once luxurious ballroom set in the bottom was at disarray, the chandelier handing precariously on several metal strings, the people below screaming up at the stage where Wayland was supposed to be. Instead, the current mayor, a Bruce named Thumburt, came along, fiddling with his tie. “I-I understand that we’re all anxious today,” he announced, his voice competing against the screams of the audience, “But the Lady did not gather us here to panic--”
Presently footsteps descended on the balcony above, and a ruffled Wayland came to the stage. Thumburt heaved a sigh of relief, whispering: “Thank goodness you came.”
“What happened this time?” she tossed back, quietly screaming.
“Ms. Wayland, the heiress of the Belfast estate has been found asleep on her porch and she doesn’t appear to be waking up,” he whispered back. “We suspect it’s the White Witch.”
Wayland’s eyes widened, before snapping back to the audience of disheveled Neovians. She cracked her knuckles, neatened her hair, and took the stage. “Guardians.” Her voice boomed on the stage, and everything fell silent. “I understand your fear. After ten of our members have been dispatched in such an unceremonious method, your fear is understandable. But we can’t let this slow down our development. What we need is--”
There was a crash, and the screams of several. All of the attendants were plunged in darkness, and everybody looked around to see if their colleagues were alright. There was screaming. There was chaos. And then, there was silence.
Thumburt fumbled for a candle, eventually finding it in the side of the stage, beside the emergency box. He lit it. Almost immediately he was greeted by the sleeping form of Lady Wayland, resting on the stage along with several others in the audience. Only a handful of people stood up, all of them too stunned to speak. The chandelier hung above their heads, off, but still hanging.
“An illusion,” someone in the audience explained. “Simply an illusion.”
He felt his heart stop beating. He swallowed. “The White Witch.”
The candle was blown out. There was chaos once more, as the last of the audience fled from the catacombs, screaming. Thumburt only stood there, unable to move. Something was behind him. Someone. You are no longer a puppet of the Guardians, a voice said, in his head. I won’t bother you, so long as you do not bother me or my kind. Am I understood?
“Y-y-yes.” Thumburt squeaked. “Yes, ma’am.”
The candle was lit once again. He was alone, with a mass of sleeping men and women.---
She’d wondered if she went too far.
She knew well that all of them deserved what they got, and that none of them were harmed; only sleeping. But she didn’t know what to do with them, afterwards. Would she wake them up? There was a spell for that, certainly, but what would she do then?
She’d decided that after this last one, she would’ve wiped all their minds and left them to their miserable lives. Certainly, it would be difficult to keep them under control, but she’d be able to. All she had to do then was finish the job.
The rain patted on, gently. The graveyard was quiet.
Bella reminded herself of how she loved the quiet, how she loved the nothingness death provided. But it wasn’t nothing there, it wasn’t the content type of silence where everything was frozen in time; it was the unsettling silence. The silence before tragedy, the pause before a storm.
The crunching of leaves. She snapped to the side, watching as a shadowy object sprinted away from her, dashing through headstones. “Come back here,” she nearly screamed, chasing after it. “Come back!”
The figure ran, however, and continued to do so as he fled through trees, treading an uphill road. Soaked in water, she followed him, ignoring the chill up her spine, the dampness of the air, the electricity running through her veins every time thunder came down ten seconds after lightning.
Eventually, she’d pushed her way against the last of the trees, leaving only a rocky cliff and the escaped Guardian. You can’t run from me, she told him, telepathically. Stay still. This won’t hurt.
The dark figure didn’t reply.
“Can’t you hear me?” she said. “Answer me.”
She read through his thoughts, and immediately her eyes widened. No. Static. No. Silence. No. Stillness. The figure turned, showing the peaceful expression of a young shadow Zafara, looking back at her. “I figured it was you,” he said, wryly. “Though I didn’t quite believe it.”
Bella stopped. Her fingers were numb, and only then had the weight of running through the Woods fell on her. “You too?”
He looked down at the edge of the cliff. Laugh. “This is the world we live in, Bella,” he said. “We’ll always need to serve some higher purpose. We all need to adhere to something proper, something inane. It’s how we work. Its how we’ve survived, in the madness you call your home. We’ve made a madness of our own.”
The two twins stared at each other in wonder. “I thought you were different.”
He grinned. “I’m sorry for disappointing you. I thought I could convince you, but obviously that wasn’t the case. I thought it could be just us ordinary few; and now, it’s only me. That’s my mistake.” He stared at her, wistfully. Malice grew in his eyes. “One I intend never to make again.”
Before she knew it, he’d pulled out a dagger from his belt, charging at her. A scuffle occurred. There was a burst of movement, a scream. An echoing scream. Something was thrown off the cliff. Something hit the bottom. Everything was silent.
She breathed. Realizing what she’d just done, she looked over the cliff. “Bale?” murmur. Murmur. “Bale?” Lightning. “Bale!”
The rain beat on in ridicule, heralding the end of a world.