“I told you, this is not the cave. It’s my house.” Annika paced around the library, waving her arms as she spoke. Jade sat on the couch, her staff across her lap. “We can’t leave this room. My parents would kill me if they knew you were here.”
“I have to get that stone.” Jade stood quickly thumping her staff on the floor. Her rainbow scarf had fallen from her face and hung around her shoulders. She frowned at Annika with a determined look. “Then, we go back through.” She motioned with her staff at the mirror. She stared at it, as though it would open from the force of her will.
“Okay. And how does that work? You gonna flash some rainbow lightning at it?”
“The ‘snap spark’ saved your life.” Jade spoke the name slowly. She had already told Annika what it was called, several times. “Who goes into the lair of a dragon with nothing to fight with? You act like you were lost, it’s a mountain. A mountain." She spoke the word slow and deliberate emphasizing its size with her hands. "You don’t trip over a mountain.” Jade sighed. “You’re a child playing with things you don’t understand.”
“Child?” Annika’s eyes went wide. “I’m ten. What are you, like two years older than me?” Jade was obviously not much older than Annika.
“Three years, but I don’t live in my parent’s basement.”
“No, you sleep outside, and shoot rainbows out your—”
“I don’t sleep outside. Only idiots and beggars avoid building their Asha. I built mine two weeks before my name day.”
“Name day? Who talks like that? You didn’t have a name? Everyone was like ‘hey girl’, oh, ‘you, you with the stupid face.’ ‘We decided not to give you a name, so mean girl, hey mean girl’.” Annika sarcastically mocked.
“Name day was the day I was given a name, at my birth.. I’m sure your parents don’t celebrate the day you were born, but mine do.”
“Birthday? That’s called a birthday.”
“Did they give you a name?”
“Yes. Everyone has a name. Mine is Annika. The dragon even knew your name. So, that’s weird.”
“It’s not weird when your family and clan have been fighting that monster for centuries. Who are now probably dead, if not, soon will be.” Jade spun around knocking books off a shelf. “Argh!” She grunted. “I’m the only way. It was supposed to be only a week. It’s been three, and now I’m stuck in a basement with a girl who’s too afraid to bother her parents because they’re sleeping.” Jade collected herself looking at the door. A determined look came over her face. “This is dumb.” She moved for the door.
“Okay. I’m sorry.” Annika said in a panic. “I didn’t know your family was going to die. I don’t know how this works.”
“You don’t know a lot of things.” Jade crossed her arms with an angry look.
Annika shook her head. This couldn’t be happening, could it? How did this happen? This is crazy. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. What she was about to say was really crazy, but she had to fix this. It opened, so it had to open again. “I can open it, again.”
Jade smirked. “Then you’ve been lying.”
“No. I just don’t know how. I mean I know what I did, but I don’t know.”
Jade gave her a confused look. Annika sighed. “Okay. I read from this book. Out loud.” She lifted the book for Jade to see.
“Is it a spell book?” Jade asked crossing the room. Annika was relieved Jade had forgotten about going to her parents. “I can read the spell. It will be useful to travel this way.” Annika was confused, who mentions a spell book like it’s no big deal. “I’ve seen several before. What language is it in? It doesn’t matter every spell book has a logossary for pronunciation. Let me see it.” Annika handed her the book. Jade took the book thumbing through the back. She looked at Annika suspiciously as she flipped through the back of the book. “This book is useless. It’s empty.”
“What?” Annika asked shocked.
“Empty, the pages are blank.” She tossed the book to the floor. “Worthless.”
Annika quickly picked up the book in disbelief. “That’s wrong.” Annika flipped through the back of the book where Jade had been looking. The pages were blank. She flipped looking for the note marking where she read from, blank. “No, there was a picture of a mountain here.” She turned the pages to the beginning of the book. “Here.” Annika said. “See, there are words. It’s not empty, just nothing of what I read and after.” Annika was confused. Those pages had words in them before. She was certain of it. She flipped through several pages reading. It mentioned Jade’s name. A girl traveling, a girl who had gifts like speed and ‘Snap Spark’.
Annika froze. She found a page with a quote. ‘Never trust a dragon.’ Jade had said that to her before—“Jade who told you to never trust a dragon?”
“In the cave, you said, ‘Never trust a dragon,’ then you helped me.”
Annika read the book. “Never trust a dragon, said the witch.”
“So, it’s in the book.” Annika handed the book to Jade. Her head spun. What is going on?
“This is the place she lives.” Jade’s golden eyes scanned Annika over the top of the book. “I got it. It’s an oracle. You have an Oracle.”
“What’s an Oracle?”
“This will work. It’s telling us where to go.”
“You mean where you went?” Annika was confused how this was even possible, more shocking, why Jade acted like it all made sense.
“The witch. We need to visit the witch again.” Jade handed the book to Annika. “Let’s go. Open it, she will know what to do.”
Annika grunted in frustration. Jade wasn’t getting it. “I don’t know how.”
“You did it before with the oracle. Do it again. Whatever you did before do it again, but this time we go to the witch’s cottage.”
Annika held the book looking around the library. She read from the book. She read just as she did before, no, she laid it on the lectern. Then she began to read the passage Jade had shown her.
“The day was bright and clear; a light breeze shifted the tall grass and whispered in the trees. Birds sang in their branches, butterflies drifted along the path. The forest was nothing as Jade expected. The Black Forest was not black or dark. She wondered about the name.”
“Skip ahead.” Jade interrupted. “It’s not working.”
“That’s a weird name. The black forest? It doesn’t sound black at all.” Annika said.
“No, it’s not weird. It makes sense when you know what happens. Just read further down. Read about the cottage.”
A butterfly landed softly on the corner of the lectern. “Jade.” Annika motioned to the butterfly. The girls looked at one another and then at the mirror. Their reflections had become hazy. Annika continued reading. “She would have missed the small orderly structure, if not for the laughter.” Annika looked at Jade. “What kind of laughter, Jade? Like a hyena ready to eat you laughing, or a party laughing? Where are we going?”
“The door was bright red. It’s walls, an even brighter yellow; bright green shutters framed the windows. Colorful curtains could be seen inside covered in brilliant floral patterns. Firewood stacked neatly beside the red front door and a freshly swept porch announced cleanliness and order.”
“It’s working.” Jade said. The mirror was clouded, like fog in the early morning. Rays of sunlight, one by one, pushed aside the fog. A butterfly popped through the mirror lighting at the end of Jade’s staff. The cottage became clear in the mirror, first appearing in a haze of colors, then moved into focus, a path lay before them.
Jade reached out putting her hand through the mirror, then quick as a snap leapt through.
Close the book. Annika thought. Close the book and you’re done. Annika slid her hand to the open book. Jade’s hand suddenly laid flat over the open book. She was so fast. “Don’t even think about closing that book.” Jade glared at Annika. “You did this.”
“It’s not my fault.” Annika pleaded.
“I saved you. I could have saved my family, but I saved you.” Jade slid her hand to Annika’s wrapping her hand around hers. “At least go to the cottage with me. The witch will know what to do.”
“How do you know?”
“They always know. If you have a question, ask the witch. Everybody knows that.” Jade wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. She squeezed Annika’s hand. “The pages are blank. If you close that book, you kill me and everyone inside.”
Annika glanced painfully at the mirror.
“Look at me.” Jade moved her face close to Annika’s. “Look at me.” Jade was angry and determined. She spoke slowly. “I’m real. I’m as real as you are. This book is my story. You have one too. Somewhere on the other side of a mirror somewhere, someone is reading your story out there.” Jade’s hand squeezed tightly onto Annika’s. “We have a chance to change mine, maybe I can help you change yours. We need each other. I need someone to read mine, just as you need someone to read yours. It’s the only way we live.” Jade let go of Annika and stepped back.
“I didn’t know.” Annika whined.
“Now you do.” Jade said. “Come on.” She slammed her staff on the floor with a resounding CRACK.
Annika sighed and nodded in agreement.
“After you.” Jade motioned to the cottage in the mirror. Annika left the lectern stepping through the mirror. And this is how you die Annika. She thought to herself. She looked back, Jade jumped through the mirror, now lodged in a tree. She needed to remember that tree, so she could get back. It was tall and wide, like every other tree. There was nothing special about it. A large boulder the size of a car sat beside it, resembling the shape of a horse standing and pawing the air. She would remember that rock. She had to.
Jade jogged to the door. Annika walked slowly scanning the forest for danger. “What are you doing?” Jade asked. “We don’t have much time. Hurry up.” Using her staff, she rapped three times on the door. They waited a few minutes with no answer.
“Maybe she’s not home, we should come back later.” Annika scanned the woods. She was terrified and felt exposed waiting at the door. “I can wait over there, in those bushes. You’ve been here before you can talk to the witch.”
“It’s not the witch. It took a while last time too. There will be questions, riddles we have to answer.” Jade stared at the door determined. “Oh, and don’t eat the muffins, or well don’t eat anything. I was almost trapped here.”
“Trapped? What are we doing here?” Annika’s stomach was in knots. “Let’s go back, there has to be another way.”
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
The sound came from the other side of the door. “It’s too late. Besides the book will be blank, remember? This is where we start.” Jade looked back at Annika. “You need to be brave. I’ve done this before, we’ll be fine. I know what’s going on.” Jade raised her staff tapping two more times.
A voice on the other side of the door answered. “Annika must come alone.”
“What?” Jade looked at Annika confused. “That’s new. How do you know the witch?”
“I don’t. I’m not going in there.”
The door clicked, opening a crack. Jade sighed. She pushed to open the door. It didn’t budge. “Annika must come alone.” The voice repeated. Jade looked at Annika. “I can’t go in, if I wanted to.”
Annika swallowed. She had no place to go. She had come this far, what else was she going to do? Annika opened the door slowly stepping through. The door quickly closed behind her. The entryway was much larger than it appeared outside. A wide staircase stood in front of her, the room opening up around it. Light flooded in through the windows. It looked like a cottage should, framed with wood. Large wooden beams stretched across the ceiling, arches supported doorways, engraved with intricate patterns of vines and flowers. The floor was wooden and clean, a light wood, white and grey. The well oiled wood gleamed in the sunlight filtering through the windows.
A small fragile looking little girl, wearing glasses too large for her face, walked into the room holding a stack of books. “The Lady will be with you in a moment. Please follow me.” The girl turned carrying the heavy stack, almost as tall as she. “We will sit for a cup of tea.”
Annika slowly followed. The cottage seemed friendly and gave Annika a sense of her grandmother’s house. Everything was in order, small paintings filled with color hung on walls colored in bright pastels. She was led into a kitchen with a small eating area near a large bay window. Annika stopped, filled with shock at what she saw outside the window. The house sat at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Seagulls flew in the air calling as they dove out of sight, below the cliff. The ocean was calm under a bright cloudless sky, she heard the sound of waves crashing in the distance. Annika was confused, they were nowhere near the sea, they had been in a forest. She wondered about a witch’s enchanted home; anything was possible.
“The Lady has instructed we begin with tea. She will be along soon.” The small girl with giant glasses had returned holding a wooden tray adorned with teacups, saucers, sugar, and a small tea pot.
“Where are we?” Asked Annika as the girl set the table where she had taken a seat.
“In the Lady’s house, duh.” The girl frowned at Annika and snorted. She pushed her glasses up with one finger and continued the setting.
“That’s not what I meant.” Annika said slowly. This girl was weird and rude. “We were in the forest and now we’re by the ocean?”
The girl smiled placing a teacup and saucer in front of Annika. “It’s a big house.” She replied rolling her eyes. Returning to the other side of the table, she gently set another saucer and teacup in place. She only set two places; she didn’t set a third. Annika assumed the other placement was for the witch, or ‘Lady’ as the girl called her. The tea set was delicate, placed in the center of the table with a serving dish, for what, she could only guess. She had never had tea before. She played with her mom when she was little, but never had real tea at a table, set in such a way. The girl with the giant glasses, placed a tiny spoon in front of Annika on a turquoise cloth napkin, to the side of Annika’s teacup and saucer. Another identical placement was set directly across from her. The girl took the silver serving tray and disappeared.
Annika sat quietly examining the room. It was off the kitchen, so she wondered where the girl had gotten the tea and taken the serving tray. The home was colorful. Everything had its place; order was set everywhere. Freshly cut, colorful flowers were displayed in an elegant vase at the center of the table. Annika couldn’t help noticing the vase matched the tea pot and cups set in saucers at the table. Everything matched and were coordinated.
“Ah, there now. Very lovely Kaiah. Well done.” A tall slender woman, her hair in a tight braid encircling her head, entered the room. Her dress was slender and pressed with starch. It looked crisp and shone with cleanliness. Her hands were held together in front of her as she stood beside the table. Annika felt she should stand to meet her or run if needed. The girl with big glasses, named Kaiah, followed, scurrying behind the woman like a little mouse. “I am Lady. Welcome to my home Annika.” The woman did not offer her hand but motioned, instead, for Annika to sit. Annika took her seat watching the woman, Lady. Her face was hard and angled. Her mouth and eyes were soft at the corners. She was attractive and gave an air of authority. She reminded Annika of her teacher at school, actually more like the principal, friendly but serious.
“I understand you are a bit lost.” Lady said, as she took the seat Kaiah pulled out for her. Straight as a board Lady sat in her chair turning to the teacup and saucer. Kaiah scurried to the corner and stood, her hands behind her back, eyes on Annika.
“Can my friend come in?”
“No.” The reply was short and quick. Lady sipped from her tea in a delicate manner raising her eyebrows. “Well done Kaiah, I believe this may be the best yet. Still, room for improvement.” Lady smiled giving Kaiah a sideways glance. “But I approve.”
“How do you know my name? I don’t know where I am. How did this happen?”
“You haven’t tried your tea, dear.” Lady set her cup down softly. “Kaiah has been perfecting the art of tea. You know, the craft of tea is being lost. It’s so unfortunate, patience and persistence are tasty skills experienced in the art of tea.” She levelled her gaze on Annika. “Go on dear, tell me what you taste.” Annika was certain of it, she was exactly like the principle, not her teacher.
Annika remembered what Jade said, ‘don’t eat anything.’ Did this count as eating? It was just a sip. She looked in the teacup. It was honey colored and showing a glossy sheen. Annika lifted the cup to her mouth taking the tinniest of sips. The flavor was bitter, cooled with a hint of mint. As she swallowed, it became sweet as honey. Her tongue tingled; the honey made her forget the bitter sip. It was good. She took a deeper second sip enjoying the minted honey coating the back of her mouth. A calm lay across her. It started at the back of her head, a warm sensation flowing down her back and arms to her fingertips and the tips of her toes. She placed the cup back on the saucer. Her head felt light her hands tingled with warmth, like sitting in front of a warm fire, after coming in from a day of sledding. She couldn’t help smiling.
“I believe she likes it Kaiah, well done.” Kaiah smiled brightly as she stared at the floor, shifting her weight with delight. Lady took another sip watching Annika over her cup. “Dragons are more than they seem.” She said replacing the cup to its saucer.
“A dragon seemed more all by itself. What do you mean, more?” Annika asked shocked. “Jade said you told her to never trust a dragon. Did you tell her that? Are you the witch?”
“The witch?” Kaiah made a shocked sound. Lady chuckled. “No. I’m not ‘the’ witch. I’m a witch, one of many.” She opened a small porcelain serving dish sitting at the center of the table, took a pinch of something finely ground and sprinkled the blue powder over her tea. She put the cup to her lips and winked at Kaiah with a quick smile. “We educated women, have been called witches for a millennium. We have been reviled and relegated to keep us powerless. In your world, dear, I may be called a teacher. Still relegated, but with a contrite place of value.” Both her hands wrapped around the teacup, her finger and thumb caressing the rim as she spoke. She lifted her head looking down her nose. Her tone became very serious. “We are masters of our crafts; healing, growing, and leading. The name is not our choosing but bestowed to us out of fear.”
“In the movies and books, witches do magic.” Annika said, a little confused.
“Do you have a phone or tablet? A device that can contact someone on the other side of the world? You can see them and hear them, can’t you?” Annika nodded. “Only fifty to one hundred years before your time, they would have called that magic.” Lady pursed her lips. “Ignorance limits the imagination and requires words like magic, to explain what others don’t understand.”
“So, the mirror isn’t magic?” Annika felt surprisingly relaxed.
“It’s a tool. What’s important, is how to use the tool.” Lady finished the last of her tea. She placed her hands in her lap with a quick sigh. “This brings us back to dragons being more than they appear.” She stood, Kaiah quickly left the room. “I must be going. I have another appointment. Our time for tea has come to an end.”
“Wait. No. I don’t know what to do, or how to fix anything. You haven’t helped me at all.” Annika was so confused. She wanted to jump from her chair, but her body felt heavy. She couldn’t move, she was so relaxed. Her eyes felt heavy. Why am I sleepy? She thought. Her thoughts were slowing down.
Lady leaned in. “Listen carefully, there’s not much time. That snake has found a way out of the cavern I trapped him in with the help of the dragon stone. It won’t be there now. So, don’t go there.” Kaiah returned with the silver serving tray. She gathered the dishes, placing them on the tray and wiping the table. Annika was surprised to notice her empty teacup. She had mindlessly drunk it all. How much time has passed? She thought. Lady picked up her empty teacup. Looking in the teacup her eyes narrowed as she spoke. “Annika, he has been waiting for someone like you to enter this world.” She pushed something around, inside the cup, with her finger. “He will find you again, but he won’t look as he did before.” She continued thoughtfully. “Dragons are more than they seem.” Lady placed her hand on the shoulder of Kaiah stopping her work. “I will send Kaiah with you. It will be good for you both.” She placed the teacup on the silver serving tray. Cupping Annika’s face in her hands, she said, “You are not the first to visit this world. Kaiah will help you, as I helped the last.” Then, she gently kissed Annika’s forehead.
Annika’s head began to bob. She could not hold it up, though she tried with all her strength. The room turned to black.
Annika’s head hit the table fast asleep. “I hope to see you again Annika. We will have much to talk about, I think.” Lady’s voice was the last she heard before drifting into a deep, black sleep.