She looked over the devastated land, at the groves of trees buried by landslide, and leaned again into the embrace of her grandmother.
“They can’t all be gone!” she sobbed.
“We are the only two remaining. The next strike will be soon.”
There came the rattle of small stones down the side of the hill, almost unnoticed in the pouring rain. Thunder growled like an angry voice.
Her grandmother lightly touched her hair.
“You must go.”
Tears mixed with the raindrops streaming down her face.
“I can’t leave you!”
“You cannot stay. You must find help for us.”
Twylgalit stepped back, looking wildly across the wasteland outside their sanctuary.
“Only a human can help us. I have spoken to the Watcher of Gates. He knows of our plight. He will ensure you will be sent to one who can help. Now, come, give me a hug, dear twiglet, and I will send you on your way.”
Twylgalit fiercely hugged her grandmother. She felt the rough bark against her face for a moment, and then, suddenly, she was elsewhere.
Jody Burns saw the green-haired girl step out of midair.
At first, she didn’t realize she’d seen anything unusual—this was the mall on a Saturday, after all—but then it struck her that this couldn’t possibly be some advertising trick. The girl hadn’t been there a second ago. The air had suddenly rippled, and she had stumbled through.
She was dripping wet, her hair and clothing clinging to her. She looked as if she had been crying, and Jody could hear a half-sniff/half-sob as she glanced around at the crowded mall.
The girl shook her head, and Jody expected to see droplets of water fly everywhere. Instead, she only heard a faint rustle, and the short hair suddenly looked dry, lightening to a sea-green color. The water beading the girl’s light-brown skin and soaking her shirt vanished as if absorbed.
The girl hugged her bare arms below the short sleeves and looked around as if she was searching for someone.
Jody quickly looked back at the window display before her. Summer pastels were such a relief after the gray winter drabs. She said as much to Amy Evans, but Amy was looking elsewhere.
“Well, check out the new style.”
“Eww, seaweed,” Brittany commented.
Jody turned with the rest of the group. The green-haired girl was heading directly for them. She wore a loose, almost knee-length, brownish smock and dark-brown leggings. The smock had a pattern that reminded Jody of the paneling in the family room—light and dark woodgrain swirls, and the neck and sleeve trim even resembled bark. Close up, her brown skin seemed to have greenish undertones.
Wonder if she’s ill… A small thought began before Jody crushed it.
The girl stopped before them. Small beaded cords that held short tufts of hair at each temple clattered softly as she bobbed her head.
“Excuse, please. Do you know where dwells a hero?”
“Hero?” Amy echoed.
“Or a wizard. A demon slayer would be best.”
Jody wondered why the girl was looking at her. Maybe it was because she was the tallest of the group of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. She knew she was dressed more in fashion than the others, but then, the city stores she used to shop at were much better than those in smalltown malls.
She seems about our age. Too old to be playing little-kid games.
“You mean…The Slayer?” Brittany asked, emphasizing the name. “Someone obviously watches too much television,” she added to the group.
“Weird,” Sadie commented. She made a circling gesture by her temple, and the others giggled.
The girl looked from one to the other and finally returned her attention to Jody.
“Please. I need help.”
“Definitely,” Amy agreed. “For one, that hair color is so out.”
“Out where?” She seemed puzzled when several of the girls laughed.
Jody actually thought the girl’s hair color was interesting—sea-foam, she thought the shade might have been called. She tried to remember if she had seen any outfits in that color; it would definitely suit her blond looks.
Unnervingly, the girl focused on her again.
“Please. We’ve held back the evil as long as we can. We need help.”
Why was she asking her?
“Uh…” Jody looked around. Weren’t there any security guards in this mall? She’d settle for an older teen or an adult, if she could get anyone’s attention. But everyone seemed to be in a hurry, walking past or around the group of girls.
“And that outfit.” Amy tsked. “Long baggy T-shirts are so yesterday.”
The girl tilted her head as she looked at them.
“I don’t understand your words. The Watcher of Gates said the first person who saw me would be the one to help.” She looked again at Jody, who tried not to squirm. “Will you help?”
“Yes, Jody,” Amy said with an unfriendly smile and a glance aside at the other girls. “Will you help?”
Jody could feel the others watching her as they waited. Somehow, it felt as if everyone in the mall was watching her. This girl might be serious about asking for help, but what could she do? Better to make a big joke of it, as the rest were, and go back to window-shopping.
Jody opened her mouth to speak—and suddenly felt overwhelmingly bored. So bored. I want to walk away.
“I’m bored,” said Amy. She turned and walked away. The rest of the girls followed. Jody started to turn as well, but a brown hand closed about her wrist.
The green-haired girl looked closely at her. “Will you help?” she repeated.
Jody looked down at the hand around her wrist just above the silver bracelet. She was so bored. She should leave now…and yet, there was something odd about that grip around her wrist. She felt as if there were two voices in her head, one demanding go, and the other stay.
Jody looked up to see Jeanne Tucker, her brother’s friend, coming toward them. She really should leave; Amy and the other girls were already several stores away. Jeanne Tucker was not one of the popular crowd and never followed the trends. For example, as usual, the dark-haired girl was wearing jeans and a plain sweatshirt more suited to a barn than the mall. Fashion disaster.
Amy always said Jeanne Tucker was odd, that she had powers. Jody vaguely remembered something strange about Jeanne last October, something about her spotted horse and a tree…
But there was someone holding her wrist.
Jeanne Tucker looked at Jody, at her wrist being held by the green-haired girl, then finally at the green-haired girl.
“Yes,” she said softly, “I thought I sensed…” She looked closer at the green-haired girl and smiled. The strange girl smiled hesitantly in return. “But you’re not a dryad, are you?” Jeanne continued.
“No,” the girl said slowly. “My ancestor was human.”
Jody’s boredom vanished as if it had been switched off. What had she said?
“That explains it,” Jeanne said, although Jody didn’t think it did. “I’m Jeanne, that’s Jody, and you are…?”
“Twyl-gaa-lit,” Jeanne repeated slowly. “Is that right?” The girl nodded, and Jeanne smiled again. “Twylgalit, why don’t you let Jody go, and you and I can talk.”
The green-haired girl shook her head, the cords in her hair clacking. “No, the Watcher of Gates said that the first to see me would be the one to help us.”
“I…see,” Jeanne said slowly. Then she nodded. “Sorry, Jody, looks like you stay here for the moment.”
“What?” Jody’s temper flared. Don’t I have a say? And why am I still standing here? This girl is smaller than me; I could shake off her grip and go join…
But before she could complete the thought, it was gone.
Jeanne acted as if Jody had not spoken.
“How did you get here?” she asked the strange girl. Jody tried to remember her name. Twillow—something.
“Grandmother sent me to where I could find help.”
Jeanne tilted her head. “Grandmother?”
“I call her Grandmother. She’s actually…” The girl spread the fingers of her free hand. “…great-great-great—”
“We get the idea,” Jody muttered. Jeanne glanced at her, and Jody had the urge to stay quiet.
“She’s very ill. I think…I think she’s dying.” Twillow-something wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Being closer to the magic, she has the power. She ‘spoke’ to the Watcher of Gates and sent me through”– the girl waved her free hand–“to this place. To where the person who could help us would be. I found her.”
Her grip tightened around Jody’s wrist.
“She does have the choice, though,” Jeanne said thoughtfully. “You can’t force her to help against her will.”
Jody wanted to say something, to tell them to stop talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but Jeanne eyed her and she couldn’t. The dark-haired girl glanced again at Jody’s wrist.
“And, actually, you might have the wrong one. Jody, is Peter here?”
Suddenly, she could talk again. “How should I know? We don’t actually hang out with the same crowd.” Jody tossed her hair back, remembering the last time her twin had commented about her friends.
“Yeah, I know. He needs to hear this, though.” Jeanne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “So much fear,” she said softly. “And something follows. I can feel it. It’s…” Her eyes snapped open. “No wonder you’re scared.”
Jody took one step back from Jeanne even as her captor moved closer. “Yes! You understand! It hates life. It will destroy all the lands if it gets free—”
“Hey, Jody!” a familiar call came. Jody relaxed for a second—Peter would know what to do—and then immediately scowled. Know-it-all Peter.
“Jody, Mom’s waiting by—Get away from my sister!”
Jody turned to see Peter suddenly break into a run toward them. He was staring at the green-haired girl with a furious expression. Just as he reached them, though, Jeanne stepped in front of him.
“She needs our help, Peter. Her grandmother is very ill, and there’s something after her. Twylgalit, this is Peter, Jody’s brother. Peter, Twyl-galit.”
Twylgalit had released Jody’s wrist at Peter’s shout. She rubbed her hand and bowed slightly.
“What’s a dryad doing here?” Peter growled, still glaring fixedly at Twylgalit.
“Not dryad,” Jeanne corrected. “Human.”
“That hair isn’t—Jeanne, I see a tree.”
“You see a human,” Jeanne said firmly.
Peter attempted to pass Jeanne, but the dark-haired girl blocked him again. He frowned at her and gestured at Twylgalit.
“But it—” Jeanne shook her head, and he corrected himself. “She…Human? How?”
Jody looked from one to the other. Why was Peter talking about a tree? He was glaring at Twylgally-something again. She looked at the green-haired girl as well, and saw nothing strange about the girl other than her hair color. The greenish undertone to her skin was more pronounced than before. Maybe Peter’s comments were making her sicker. Hope she doesn’t throw up on me. She backed a step away from her.
Twylgally-something glanced at Jody, then back at Peter. “My ancestor had magic.”
“Obviously.” Peter crossed his arms. “So, what’s the story? Why are you here?”
Jody looked from one to the other. Jeanne and Peter acted as if the strange girl was making sense.
She suddenly realized that Amy and her friends were no longer in sight. Maybe she could find them.
“I’ll just go—”
“No, you won’t,” Peter disagreed. “Mom’s waiting for us outside. I want to hear this first.” He nodded at Twylgally. “Go ahead.”
“My ancestor’s ancestor imprisoned a powerful being.” Twylgally glanced at Jody again, faltered, then continued. “His magic was not enough to defeat the evil, but he had knowledge enough to know how to keep it confined until it could be defeated. He created us for that.” She looked pleadingly at them. “We have waited so long for help to come. And now we can no longer wait. There is only my grandmother and myself. And I don’t have the wisdom. Once Grandmother is…gone, it will be free to turn all of the Lands into a wasteland like the one it now rules.”
Peter raised his hands. “And you come to us? What’s wrong with the wizards?”
Jody stared in amazement. Peter was not only buying the weird story, but he was adding to it! Wizards? But Peter didn’t believe in magic—or at least the Peter she used to know hadn’t.
“We had no way to reach them.” Twylgally frowned. “They aren’t…nearby.”
“And we are?”
“Peter,” Jeanne said softly, glancing aside at the crowded mall, “she’s telling the truth. Her grandmother sent her here for help. She found Jody.”
Peter lowered his voice. “Jody? Why Jody? No offense, twin, but you aren’t someone I’d ask for help.”
“What?” Jody scowled at him.
“Um, you might be the one they were looking for.” Jeanne, Jody was irritated to see, seemed amused. “Take a look at what’s on her wrist.”
Peter took one look and exploded. “My wristguard! What were you doing in my room? How dare you take my stuff!”
Jody shrugged. He didn’t frighten her; she was still taller than he was. And it wasn’t like him to make a fuss over jewelry.
“You weren’t wearing it. Besides, it looks good with my outfits.” She’d had the argument about his fancy bracelet ready for months, and it still sounded strong. He hadn’t missed it in all that time. Mom would see her side.
Peter didn’t. “Hand it over. You don’t know what you’re messing with.”
Jody shrugged again and obeyed. She’d wait for him to forget it again and get it back.
Twylgally looked from Jody to Peter as the bracelet was passed. Peter flushed and ran a hand through his sandy hair.
“Sorry I was angry,” he said to the floor. He looked up at the green-haired girl. “Your grandmother sent you to the wrong twin. Not her fault. Jody was wearing something that belongs to me. This…” He held up the silvery wristband. “…came from—” He said something in a language Jody didn’t understand. Twylgally looked impressed.
Jody wasn’t. “Oh, yeah, like it’s my fault you leave it lying around.”
Peter scowled at her and put the silvery band around his right wrist.
“Where’s Amy and the rest of her shadows?”
“Oh, they had a sudden attack of boredom,” Jeanne said. Peter eyed her, and Jody recognized the you’re-not-telling-me-everything look even when it wasn’t directed at her. Jeanne grinned and shrugged with open hands. “They were hassling Twylgalit.”
“Good thing for Twyl you were nearby, then.” Peter glanced at his watch. “Mom’s waiting for us. Jody and I have to go.”
“Meet later by the Watcher?” Jeanne suggested.
Peter nodded. “We’ll need to get some supplies. Where is your grandmother?” he asked Twylgalit.
“In the wasteland.”
“Where’s that in location to? Wait, my map’s at home. Right, we have to go home, get the map, get supplies…” He shook his head. “Why didn’t the wizards spot this thing sooner?”
“The Flood may have awakened it,” Twylgalit said helpfully. “There was the Great Forgetting, and it seemed to sleep—at least, we have not been troubled by it for some time.”
“And it woke up when the curse was broken?” Peter asked.
“If that stopped the Forgetting, then, yes.”
Peter glanced at Jeanne. “You’re right; it’s our responsibility, then.”
“I do not understand,” Twylgalit said. Jody mentally agreed.
“We broke the curse that caused the Forgetting,” Jeanne said softly.
“Oh.” Twylgalit looked from Jeanne to Peter, and Jody felt very jealous at the awe in the girl’s eyes. “You must be most powerful, then.”
“Lucky is more like it,” Peter disagreed. “You mentioned a flood. Did this thing cause it?”
“No. It is trapped on the wasteland. But from the top of Grandmother I can see water where a desert used to be during the Great Forgetting. Before that, she told me, it was a wondrous grassland.”
Jeanne nodded. “Near Windgard, then. The wizards were going to cause a flood to restore the plains.”
“That’s a long way from the Watcher. It’ll be a walk then.”
Jody couldn’t believe this conversation. What Peter was so casually talking about sounded as if it would take days. What about school? How was he going to convince their parents? And he was bossing everyone around, as usual. At least she wasn’t going to have to worry because she wasn’t going along.
As if he caught the thought, Peter turned to her. “Coming, Jody?”
Jody opened her mouth to reply, but he wasn’t looking at her. He had turned back to Jeanne and said something in that weird language. Then he looked at Twylgalit.
“Twyl, you coming with us, or going with Jeanne? We’ll all be meeting later to get back to your world.”
Twylgalit edged closer to Jody. “Please, let me go with Jody.”
Jody sighed and hoped no one she knew would see her with the green-haired girl.
To be continued…