“Think we’ll find our way out of here?”
“I don’t know Kae. We’ve been walking around for hours. I think we’re lost.” I mumble.
“So do I, I just mean, other than the door we came in, where do you suppose this tunnel leads to? There’s got to be another end, otherwise, that secret door wouldn’t exist,” he rambles on.
The darkness of the tunnel, despite Kaedes flashlight, has grown on my mood. We’d been following the secret tunnel for what felt like hours, but the continuous time within me said it has only been close to two.
“Think we can still find that plant you wanted?” He asks casually, stumbling on a rock on the floor he didn’t see with the light.
“I suppose. The plant is local to most parts of Europe, but it wouldn’t be underground. We’d have to get out of this place first.”
“Good point,” Kaede agrees. “Hey, man. I don’t much care, either way. I’m super glad you brought me with you!” He says, voicing echoing down the tunnel.
“Well, if I’d gone alone, I wouldn’t have brought myself here. That was you, remember.”
“Yea, I know. But still, this is so wicked cool. Car would freak!” he falls silent at the mention of her name. He hasn’t talked a whole lot about her lately and I’m beginning to worry about what happened between them while Kat and I were gone.
“Are you two ok?” I ask, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah, we’re cool,” he says.
I know that reply. I know it means ‘I’d rather not talk about it’. I decide to intervene, considering there’s nothing else to talk about in this dark tunnel anyway.
“You’re lying. What happened? It’s written all over your face,” I say.
“If it’s all over my face, you don’t have to ask then,” he says quietly.
“You know what I meant. You can tell me,” I pry.
He doesn’t answer for a while, and I start to think I have to try again when he finally does. “There was an accident at one of her training classes,” he nearly whispers. I quicken my pace a little to hear what he says.
“Mmhm,” I prompt.
“And… I nearly drowned.”
“What? That’s… impossible. How?” I ask for details.
“I don’t know, man. One minute I was standing there saying I’d like to help, next thing I know I was in the water and she knows I can’t swim!” he says quickly.
“Did she tell you what happened?” I ask.
“Of course. She said Naum, the professor did it and she pulled me out, but…”
“But what?” I ask. It’s clear to me that if that’s what she said happened, then she’s not at fault. I wonder what’s got Kaede all in knots.
“But… now I’m terrified. I’m scared of the water, and I’m scared of what might happen around her. She’s the freakin’ mage of water Andi!”
“I see,” I trail off. He’s not so much afraid of her, but the water. I can see the resemblance of how Kat was with her own magic. I also see a way to help him out.
“Well, you know, if you’re freaking out, Caroline probably is too. She hates magic or doesn’t understand it at all. She prefers hard facts and books. This whole thing is probably ten times more frightening to her than it is to you,” I say.
“I’m the one that nearly drowned!” he reminds me.
“Yeah, but you didn’t. Why?” I point out.
He’s quiet. He knows the answer. “Car,” he says simply.
“Yea. She wouldn’t let you drown. And the fact that she’s a water mage should help you get over that fear,‘cause the more she learns about it, the more she’ll be able to control it and keep you safe. I only see pluses here man.”
His silence proves he’s thinking about what I’ve said. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbles. “I… I really need to talk to her. We haven’t spoken in days!” he says.
“Where have you been sleeping?” I ask.
“Your room. You’re never in it anyway. You might as well move in with Kat. You’re always together,” he chuckles.
I laugh along, though, I’m still undecided.
The tunnel starts to curve and we both stop talking, listening carefully for any noises that might inform us of where we have ended up. After a while, the tunnel comes to a stop. Kaede looks around with the light, but we don’t see anything till he points it up at the ceiling, where a small ladder is clipped.
“Think it’s safe?” he asks me with a doubtful frown.
“I don’t know. We’ve been walking for two hours. I doubt we’re still beneath the town,” I say. We pull the ladder down and he climbs up the first few steps, pressing an ear to the dirt ceiling of the tunnel. We’re quiet as he listens. After a moment, he pulls away, shaking his head.
“I don’t hear a thing,” he climbs down from the ladder, motioning for me to check.
I press my ear to the ceiling. Nothing. I tap the ceiling, causing dirt to crumble onto my head. I brush it away and grin at what I find. “It’s a trap door. I don’t hear a thing either. I think we can leave, I’m going to take a peak.” I push lightly at the ceiling, feeling a slight resistance. Eventually, it gives way, moving upwards as a solid piece.
Dirt and plant matter shower down on me as I push the door up and squint in the early afternoon light. I brush the dirt from my face, covering my eyes from the brightness of the sun and glance about. I find myself in the crumbling remains of an old stone house, trees growing out from the foundation and vines cover the old jagged stone walls. The leaves are all brown, hanging limply on the vine or collected into piles about the worn, rotting floor.
I take another step up the ladder, turning around to see the other side of the house when a black blur come into view from the corner of my vision and I feel a sharp pain in my head before the world goes dark around me.
The first thing I am aware of is the pain, head-splitting pain, as my consciousness returns. I lay in agony, waiting for it to subside before I try anything like moving. Fortunately, my ears work. Trying to distract my own head from the throbbing pain, I listen to the muffled voices that surround me.
“… so then, when they thought all was lost and hopeless, the hobbits sat on a rock and watched as lava and ash rained down around them, relieved that they were at the end of all things,” I hear a familiar voice.
“Please, stop talking. I don’t know what you’re saying. You speak a strange tongue, foreign man,” a female voice cuts through the darkness.
“Of course, the movie doesn’t end there. Caroline informs me that the book ends differently, but basically – ” Kaede drones on.
“Wait, I think he’s waking!” The female voice says. I feel whatever surface I’m laying on tilt to the left, throwing my thoughts off balance.
“Hmm? Oh, look! He’s waking up!” Kaede repeats.
It’s too much to comprehend. I don’t want to try to understand. Their speaking seems to call for my attention though, so I attempt to open my eyes. I’m met with a searing pain of bright light flashing across my face and I immediately regret trying.
“Oops, sorry,” the light disappears and I reluctantly try again. My head seems to hurt more.
“Are you alright? Can you hear me?” The female voice asks. Her voice is soft and laced with worry. I roll my eyes towards her voice and I freeze. Straight black hair falls around her head and her lips are painted bright red. Her lips curve in a greedy way. I quickly shut my eyes, they must be deceiving me.
“I think you broke him,” Kaede retorts from my feet.
I open them again and am again surprised, for this time I see a round-faced woman with chocolate brown curls tumbling over her shoulders and around her face. Her eyes match her hair and her cheeks are dusted with freckles. Her face is contorted with worry.
“Oh, You are awake! I am so sorry! You surprised me something fearsome. Are you ok?” she asks, leaning towards me.
I groan with the pain. “I… my head kills,” I say. “Where, where are we?” I ask.
“Yup, you broke him. Andrei? Can you see me?” Kaede asks.
“Yes, I can hear you too, Kae” I reply dryly.
“Ok, good. You had a knock to the head, but it’s good that you’re awake now,” he informs me.
“You can understand this foreign man?” The girl asks. I don’t bother to move my head when either of them talk. It’s too much effort.
“Yes, I can,” I say.
“You can understand her? Dude! I didn’t know you could speak Romanian!” Kaede shouts, impressed.
“Shhh…” I hush him, wincing at the pain of his loud voice.
“Sorry,” he whispers.
“No, I don’t speak Romanian. Why would I speak Romanian?”
“‘Cause you are Romanian, I mean, Canadian but from Romania. Dude, we’ve been over this,” he says annoyed.
“Oh, sorry, you said I hit my head. That would explain the pain and the fuzzy memory. Where are we?” I ask again, hoping for an explanation.
“You are indeed strange. You can speak and understand this man, and I can understand you, but I cannot understand him. It is… confusing,” the woman says.
“Did we jump?” I ask Kaede.
“Yea, like, hours ago. You said you thought we were in 1916, Romania, the same date as home. You really can’t remember that?” He asks me, waving his hand to the side like it was common knowledge.
“I just need a bit of time to remember is all. You would too if you were, you said, hit in the head? With what?”
The woman leans back, crossing her arms in an embarrassed manner. “Yes, I hit you with my luggage bag. I am deeply sorry,” she mumbles.
“What do you have in there!? Jeez.” I say with surprise. It was really heavy.
“My grandmums dishware. It is… valuable to me,” she replies humbly.
“Wow. You need to be careful with that. I… give me a minute and I can explain the language thing,” I raise my hand to my head, willing the pain to go away. It’s moments like this I wish I had another mage with me to heal my own head. I don’t trust myself that much to try.
When the pain settles down a bit more, I try propping myself up. It seems they had laid me down on some rough wool blankets and put a coat beneath my head as a pillow. I’m glad for the care. When I’m able to see them both, I give them a weak smile and attempt to explain the magic of the language gimmick.
“So, when I jump to the past, usually the people can understand me and I can understand them. I think it has something to do with the magic of the time jump,” I direct to Kaede who is nodding his head, mouth slightly open in awe.
“So, I think what’s happening is that my magic is translating me to her and her language to me, but it’s not working on you, cause you don’t have magic. That’s my best guess,” I finish.
Kaede’s shoulders slump in disappointment. “Man, that’s so unfair! I want to speak to this mystery girl. So you’re saying this entire time, she never understood a word I was saying?” I shake my head slowly, trying not to aggravate my headache.
“So, you are not from around here? You are from…” the woman pauses, trying to understand, “the future?” she finally says.
“Well…” I usually try not to reveal that, but it seems in this case, there’s no hiding the truth. “Yea, we are.” Well, this is awkward.
The woman sits back, hand to her chin in thought. “Well, that is fascinating indeed. I always thought magic was real, I’ve just never met anyone who could confirm it to me.” She leans a little closer like she has something to share that she doesn’t want anyone else to hear.
“They say the woods here are cursed, or magic. One or the other,” she says softly, eyes suddenly serious.
Kaede and I share a look as if we were reading each others minds.
“What do you mean?” he asks. “How so?”
I translate for him, the woman listens carefully. “Yes, they are magic. My grandmum used to share a story of how there is a demon living in the forest. A demon of fire and anger. If you go in, you never come out,” she explains. “Which is precisely why it’s where I am going! I want to see what others have not! I want to see it for myself and one day, tell my own children about it.”
Kaede laughs after I translate. “That’s hilarious. If you go in there, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it out alive! Stories don’t lie,” he wags his finger at her.
I look at the woman and her face looks offended at the finger. “Is he scolding me?” she asks.
“No, not really. He’s mocking you, in his own way,” I shrug off.
“Well, that’s very rude of him. I have reason to believe it’s true! And, now that you’re here, you can help me! This way I can be certain to leave!” Her stature grows determined and she smiles confidently at us.
I turn to Kaede, unsure if we should do this. I tell him what she said and he grins.
“I’d love an adventure like this. Real magic? No guns? A demon? It’s like straight out of a Zelda game! Find the princess and learn new skills along the way! Let’s go!” he shouts, standing up.
“He says we will join you,” I translate roughly.
“I am truly excited! To be honest, I was a little scared to go in alone, that’s why I hit you over the head! I thought a soldier had followed me. These are war times, no less. A girl can never be too careful,” she says.
“Well, I would have liked to not be hit on the head a second time in the same week. I care very much about it.” We sit in silence for a short while, listening to the distant guns. It’s eerie, hearing the ruckus from all the way out here, where it almost seems like there is no war at all.
“What is your name?” I ask her, realizing we haven’t really introduced ourselves yet.
“Oh, it completely slipped my mind! I am Elena,” she says with a smile.
“Wow, really? My great grandma’s name was Elena. That’s funny,” I laugh, regretting the sudden movement and gripping my head with my hand.
“Not really, they’re both Romanian, it’s sort of expected. That’d be like – ” Kaede jests.
“I know Kae, It’s just funny,” he rolls his eyes and I introduce us.
“You have an interesting name. To think you are from the Orient. That is fascinating,” she smiles warmly. I know that move. She’s flirting with him. I chuckle to myself because it’s hilarious they can’t understand each other.
“So, what brought you here too, well, now?” Elena asks.
I look up at the open sky, white fluffy clouds float by on a gentle breeze, which the old stone walls block. It takes me a moment to remember why we came here. It was mostly an accident, but it turned out to be the right location anyway.
“We are looking for a plant. It’s native to this area, and we need it for… our research,” I say.
“A plant? Well, I can help you there! I know plants very well! I use them in the medicine my family makes. Do you know what it’s called?” she asks us.
Kaede and I both shake our heads. “The only name we know it by is the burning bush,” I say.
Her eyes grow wide, and her skin goes pale. “That’s the demons plant. You musn’t! If you touch it, surely you’ll be cursed!”
Kaede coughs through a laugh, “Whatever you just said, I sincerely doubt it’s as bad as you make it look. This plant naturally combusts into flames,” he says, assuming I’ll translate for him.
“Maybe it’s different. We’ll join you into the woods and if we see the plant we’re looking for, we’ll let you know,” I try to say, hoping we haven’t scared her already by naming this plant.
She slow nods her head. “Ok, I’ll take you. We should leave now, before nightfall. Is your head ok? Can you walk?” she asks, worried again.
I make the attempt to stand, for if I can do that, then I’ll probably be ok walking through the woods. With some effort and steady support from Kaede, I’m able to stand upright. I ask Kaede to find me a walking stick and assure Elena that if we walk slowly, I should be ok. I just hope that with the oral curse this forest seems to have scared away any soldiers we might come across.
By Kayla West