Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 12

Echo and Aiden sat on the train, heading towards their meeting. Waking up with Aiden in her bed, Echo felt safer than she had done since she had moved away, just to have someone else around. Humans were natural pack animals, Echo knew that, but Apsu were even more so. To many Apsu, the thought of living alone, or even just of living outside of a Community, was one of the worst imaginable, the lonely life of solidarity that Echo now, to an extent, lived.

 

“Not long now,” Aiden said, seeing how anxious Echo was to arrive, he counted up the stops, “Only about six stops, just over ten minutes left.”

 

Since yesterday, Aiden and Echo had felt more connected with each other than they ever had before. Though he was still annoyed with himself for, as he saw it, being such a mess, the evening before, he was more glad than ever to have Echo as part of his life. He thought of what would have happened if the Xul had come after him before, before he met Echo, or if he never had met Echo. He shuddered at the thought, picturing himself as Mick’s right hand man, thinking how easily he could have been led down their path had he never met another Apsu before. He squeezed on to Echo’s hand, and smiled at her, relieved that the worst had not happened.

 

Leaving the house today had been a challenge. Inside the flat, they had their own bubble of safety, their bubble of each other and meditation and wine and tea, cosy with the protection charm surrounding them. They had cast four different protection charms this morning, each carrying one of Echo’s crystals which they had enchanted with protection in their pockets for an extra boost. Though Aiden was sceptical about these working completely, he was willing to believe if it meant them having protection in the outside world. Though it had taken a while, this was what had eventually persuaded them to break free of their bubble, defence and protection, knowing that without it, fear could keep them inside forever, and as such, Mick may as well have had them at that point.

 

The closer the train got toAshbyGardens, the safer and more relaxed Echo began to feel. Though she knew it was more than likely just in her mind, she tried to trick herself that it was, in fact, the power of the Community reaching out to them. Echo had never sent much time with another Community before, bar childhood holidays toCornwallandWales. She was looking forward to seeing what it was like, and how they did things, atAshbyGardens. She was looking forward to being in a Community where she was not the Zagmi’s daughter, expected to do no wrong, and she looked forward to being in a Community where the Zagmi seemed so embracing of Lu culture so much so that she would make arrangements for coffee over the telephone.

 

Aiden, while terrified of going outside this morning, had too been excited. His first experience of an Apsu Community, something which Echo had said on many occasion that she thought he should have had access to his whole life. She had often said how unfair it was for his mother to leave him without the support of a Community, to be raised by the Lu, not that Echo thought that Samantha had done a bad job, but simply because she felt Aiden would have benefitted from the support and younger socialisation with his own kind. Although, at times like this when they had to navigate themselves around the city, and do other city things, she was grateful that Aiden at least knew what he was doing and felt at home within the crowded space.

 

Although the circumstances had not been good, Echo had enjoyed her night with Aiden in the end. She liked not waking up in a flat alone, she liked that all her suspicions, and Sophia’s theories for that matter, had been confirmed, and she liked the connection she now felt to Aiden, and the fact that both nothing and everything was different now. Through shared experienced of pain and anxiety, fear and worry, that had become closer, gaining trust in one another above all else out of the situation.

 

“I hope she’s nice, Nettie, I mean. She seemed a little off on the phone.” Echo mused.

 

Aiden took hold of her hand and squeezed it, “I’m sure she’ll be lovely, she was just probably a little funny about the phone, like you said you thought she would be.”

 

He was right, Echo knew that. She was just nervous about meeting the Zagmi, and about getting the defence charms that they needed. She was nervous about being in a new Community, both about the possibility of joining and of not joining, the pros and cons of each. The train jolted on, pulling back from each station like it were attached with rubber bands, springing back into shape after being stretched. Echo bobbed along with the train, trying to balance her body in the sideways seat.

 

The train approached their stop. Aiden stood up, and Echo followed, grasping onto his hand once again once they were stood up. She didn’t want to appear too forward, but, especially after last night, she needed to feel that there was someone who she could rely on to be there, physically as well as in mind. They made heir way through the station and into the crowded lift, and up to the ticket level. Aiden tapped his blue Oyster card onto the machine, still within its yellow plastic cover. Echo placed her light red ticket through the reader and collected it from the other end of the machine before going through the small, mechanical doors, leading their way to the outside.

 

They made their way out, the sky was bright and the sun was out, in sharp contrast to last night’s rain, although the air felt crisp and cold. Once outside, Echo realised that they had no way of recognising Nettie Adams. She had phoned off of a landline, so they could not call, and Echo had never met her before, having never even been inside her mind to get any sort of vague idea.

 

“Can’t we just, y’know, telepathize with her?” Aiden asked, saying his newly-created verb quieter than the rest of the sentence.

 

Echo was always astounded by how far Aiden’s Apsu lessons had come, and agreed with him that telepathy would be the best way to locate her. Together, they send out an open message.

 

“Nettie Adams? Where are you? This is Echo Sorrel, and Aiden Darvill.” Echo could not think of what else to say, but hoped that their short message would be enough to locate on.

 

“Yes dear, I know who you are, hello.” Echo looked up to she who she could only assume was Nettie. Nettie was quite a large woman, although not especially tall, dressed in a black and white floral print smock top with matching linen trousers. Her hair was very short, and twisted into tiny rosebud dreadlocks, framing her latte coloured face. She wore a long gold necklace with a red fish shaped pendant, although Echo wondered why, as she had never heard of a purely aquatic Apsu form before, although she thought that they probably existed somewhere, but probably not as the Zagmi of a city Commune.

 

“Oh, hello!” Echo said, truning to face her, “Nice to meet you.” She let og of Aiden’s hand and held it out to shake Nettie’s.

 

“Yes, hello dear,” Nettie replied, shaking her hand, “And you must be Aiden? Nice to meet you too.”

 

“Yeah, same to you.” Aiden replied, shaking the Zagmi’s hand, the first he had ever met in all his years of being Apsu without even knowing.

 

Nettie led the two of them to a small red car parked a couple of roads over from the station. Once they reached it, Nettie unlocked it, Aiden climbing in to the back seat leaving the front for Echo; she would, after all, be doing most of the talking today, he thought. Echo sat down and pulleed her seatbelt across, as Nettie got in. She thought it strange for a Zagmi to drive. Echo’s mother, Fawn, had one of the only cars in Stony Oaks, the Apsu folk there tended not to have much need for driving, but Fawn had said that if they truly wanted to be progressive, they would have to keep up with the Lu. Oftentimes, Echo thought that the only reason Stony Oaks was progressive rather than entirely Orthodox was in order to keep Fawn happy, as it seemed Alder would do almost anything slightly against his own belief system to do. For Echo, it was almost like seeing the world she could have grown up in, had her mother been the Zagmi of Stony Oaks rather than her more traditional father. Not that she was complaining, she had enjoyed her childhood and adolescence, as much as anyone enjoys their adolescence at least, she thought, and was excited now to be able to explore new ways on being on her own.

 

The car moved much smoother than the train had done. They sat in silence, the dull hum of a man talking on the radio inside the car. Echo did not know what to say, and hoped that wherever they were going,AshbyGardensshe thought was not far enough away to have to make small talk on their way there. Aiden was too nervous to speak, realising he did not know if there was a proper way to behave around a Zagmi aside from generally respectful. Echo desperately wanted to talk to Aiden, to hear his voice in her head, but thought in unwise as she thought it would be rather rude, though all she wanted was to know he was alright, she just wanted the security of the sound of his melodic voice.

 

As it happened,AshbyGardenswas not that far away at all. Almost no sooner than they had gotten into the car, they drove past a sign welcoming them to the suburb borough ofAshbyGardens. It looked so different from the city just mere meters away. The rows of houses, though small, looked impeccable, not terrace as such, but rows of detached houses, surrounded by space and gardens, as the suburb’s name allured to. Echo glanced back at Aiden, sort of checking if he was still there. He smiled at her, and she felt herself relax. She knew she should not be so nervous, she knew that Nettie was a Zagmi recommended by and affiliated with both Stony Oaks and her father, and yet still she could not help but feel scared by being here, in this car, with the Zagmi she did not know.

 

They approached one of the houses, a red brick one with a slate grey roof and olive green front door. Nettie pulled into the driveway.

 

“Here we are,” She said, cheerily, “Welcome to Ashby Gardens Commune.”

 

Echo smiled politely, trying to disguise her anxieties, “Thank-you, are the whole suburbs part of the Community then?”

 

“Oh, no dear,” Nettie replied, “The suburbs are quite large you see, and we are only a small community, not too many Apsu like to live so close to the city, you see.” Echo was beginning to understand why this was, but she still nodded politely.

 

Nettie climbed out of the car and Aiden and Echo followed. Aiden put his hand on Echo’s back once he was out of the car.

 

“Hey,” Aiden said, quietly into Echo’s ear, “Don’t look so worried.”

 

Feeling him touch her back, hearing him in her ear, and feeling his breath talking against her skin did help her to relax. She wished that anxiety was not such a big issue for her, but no matter how much she tried to centre herself, she knew her nerves would always be a problem, so she just accepted them as a fact of her life, and continued on as best she could.

 

Aiden and Echo walked a step or two behind Nettie, letting her lead the way into her home. Echo was pleased that, even though she was from the city, she was trusting enough of them to let the other Apsu in, without first checking, or seeing inside their minds. She let them to the olive green door, Echo getting a better look at Nettie’s front garden now, lined in yellow and pink tinged roses, and long, wild grass bushes. Nettie unlocked the door and held it open for Aiden and Echo to walk in through, wiping their feet on the doormat, before following them in. They stood aside so that she could lead the way through her house.

 

“Welcome, again,” Nettie said as she led them through the corridor and off into the living room. The house had a plush red carpet, and red textured wallpapered walls, a colour theme which, judging by the living room, ran throughout the house. She led them over to the oversized red sofa with cream and gold scatter cushions, and told them to take a seat, which they did. Echo looked around the room, thinking that if she did not know that Nettie was a Zagmi, this room gave nothing of the sort away. There were no Apsu texts, no Lamadu, not even handwritten ones. There were no crystals, and no statues of her other form, whatever it was. The only slight giveaway was the Progressive Apsu Community official statue on the mantle. They had been produced a few years ago for the official member groups, and seeing it made Echo feel at home, reminding her of the one perched on the mantle piece at her house in Stony Oaks.

 

“Can I get you two anything?” Nettie asked, “Tea, coffee?”

 

“Tea would be great, thanks.” Aiden replied, answering for both himself and Echo. Nettie disappeared off into the kitchen to make the tea, leaving the two of them alone.

 

Sitting next to Aiden in this unfamiliar room, Echo had never been happier to have met him. Had she been here alone, she thought, the meeting would have been a lot more difficult for her. It was not that she didn’t trust Nettie, it was just that new situations, new places and new people, when she was in their spaces, was hard for her, but she was learning, everyday that she spent in London she was learning how to cope with this, and having Aiden around made every day that little bit easier. Until last night, she had felt like their reliance on each other was one sided, but after seeing Aiden how he had been, after seeing how much he needed her, she had felt a far more balanced dynamic with him and herself.

 

Nettie came back into the room carrying a tray with a pot of tea, three teacups, and a plate containing an assortment of biscuits. She unloaded these onto the small wooden table, and sat down in a large armchair opposite the sofa, facing Echo and Aiden.

 

“So then, my dears, what brings you two to us atAshbyGardens?” She asked, she turned to Echo, “Your father wasn’t very specific, he insisted on using telepathy rather than the phone, he still lives in the old world a bit, doesn’t he?”

 

Surprised by this coming from a Zagmi, although perhaps not so surprised coming from this Zagmi, Echo nodded, wanting to agree.

 

 

“Not that I have a problem with using our powers,” Nettie continued, “I just think there is a time and a place for telepathy, and when there is a Xul about to get the paths crossed, is neither.”

 

Now that Echo understood her reasoning, Nettie did not seem quite so strange a Zagmi to her anymore.

 

“So,” Continued Nettie, “Why don’t you two tell me a little about yourselves? Just so I can get to know you a little more.”

 

Aiden spoke this time. He had kept quiet so far today, not knowing what to say to the first Zagmi he had ever met, but talking about himself, he could do that, after all, who knew him better than he did. He began with his mother, Mel, and the tale of how she left her Community shortly before he was born. Nettie told him she had heard of Communities strict like that, that would kick out a young pregnant girl, but thatAshbyGardenscertainly was not like that. To Aiden, it seemed she was trying to convince them to join her Commune, something which Aiden had little interest in doing full time. Since meeting Echo, he had come to like being Apsu, having powers, and having their secret between the two of them. To open that up to a wider world, that still seemed like something he would not particularly like to do anytime soon.

 

He told her about Samantha, how she raised him with what stories she knew of his heritage from what Mel had told her all those years previously. He told her how Mel had not told him until he was ten years old exactly what his Mark meant, and how even when she did, she had told him she was not sure if it was even real, as she had hoped for him to be normal. He then skipped forward, to when he met Echo, and their lives inLondonso far, their Sociology course and the friends they were making there.

 

“Alright then,” Said Nettie, once Aiden had finished both his story and part of Echo’s, “And you’ve had a Xul run in since being here? Where were you?”

 

“In Hampstead Heath, I’d Become there before and I thought it was safe, at least, it always had been for me in the past.” Aiden said quickly, trying his best not to let the thought of Mick into his mind for too long. Never before had he experienced such an all consuming fear as his one for Mick.

 

Nettie nodded in acknowledgement, “And do you know this Xul, had you met him before?”

 

Echo was astounded at the knowledge Nettie seemed to possess, “Yes, yes I did, I didn’t tell my father ’cause I didn’t want to worry him. You won’t tell him, will you?”

 

“Don’t you worry, my dear,” Nettie responded, “But tell me who it was? We will need to keep a note.”

 

“His, um, his name,” Echo held tightly onto Aiden’s hand, “His name is Mick. He was the beta of a pack that trine to recruit my little brother, Storm, a few years ago. He looks like an Alpha now though. He’s a bulldog, a stocky one, with scars over his face.”

 

Nettie nodded, seeing how distressed Echo was becoming talking of the Xul, “We have had note of him already, one of out Community saw him a few moons back, around here. We think he’s just a lurker, his pack seem to have disbanded. He should be too much of a threat. Have you seen him since?”

 

Aiden opened his mouth to talk, but no words come out. He felt Echo stroking him on the arm, gently encouraging him, with softly spoken its okay’s flooding into his ear. He felt his body tense, about to go into panic. He longed for Echo to speak for him, so he would not have to, but he knew that he should talk for himself. He tried his best to distance himself from last night, trying to feel like an observer rather than himself.

 

“Yes,” He squeaked out, after what seemed like far to long to wait before answering a question, “Last night, I was, um, I was on my way to Echo’s, and h-h-h-he was th-th-th-there, f-f-f-following m-m-me.” He broke off before he had to stutter any more, hating the was it made him sound, and embarrassed to be talking in this way in the house of a woman he did not know, whom they were trying to ask for guidance from. Echo held onto his hand, trying to help him not return to the panic-stricken state he had been reduced to the night previously.

 

“I see,” Nettie said slowly. “Don’t worry, my dear, things will work out.”

 

Aiden was baffled by her optimism, but had learn, in his time studing Apsu, to just go with what was happening, they always did seem to have a trick or two to rely on.

 

Echo didn’t feel quite as optimistic about the optimism as Aiden did, “But, have you got anything that can help us now? In the meantime, I mean?” It was not that she did not believe in the positive thinking and the attitude about things working out, but she had come for immediate help, and would quite like to leave with rather than without it.

 

“All in time, my dear, all in time.” Nettie said by way of reply, her Jamaican intonation highlighted by the calm and melodic way she said the mantra.

 

Echo was growing frustrated with Nettie’s growing use of sentences without premises or conclusions. Aiden saw Echo’s frustration, he wanted to help, but he had no words to do so. Nettie was so persistent, and had such a air of knowledge, that he felt she must, in some way, be trusted to know what to do, even if right now that looked like nothing.

 

Nettie stood up and walked over to a cabinet at the side of the room. She opened the top draw, reached in and pulled out two objects, which she put into her fist and muttered what seemed to be an incantation over. She picked up a joss stick and lit it, placing it in the red incense burner above the cabinet, before waving her hand containing the objects through the smoke. Aiden looked at Echo, hoping she had seen this sort of think before and had some idea more than he did as to what was going on. Echo looked back at him, her eyes partially confused, but also knowing. She had indeed seen this before, but not quite in this way, so secretive as Nettie appeared to be blessing the objects.

 

Once she was done with her ritual, she came and sat down opposite them again. she held out her hand, open, revealing two silver necklace chains with black stones strung on the ends of them.

 

“For your immediate defence,” Nettie said to explain, mostly for Aiden’s benefit, “Enchanted by our Community, and blessed by myself, for defence against the Xul. You must wear them at all times; they are your links to the Community here. When in danger, the stones should change to white once the message here has been received.” Aiden’s eyes opened wide at the idea of this magic, colour changing stones and blessed messages, but he nodded, and took one of the pendants when it was passed to him, putting in on immediately and putting it under his t-shirt neckline.

 

“Thank-you.” Echo said, relived to have gained something out of the meeting.

 

“You are welcome, my dear, and if you need the support of our Community, we gather every Tuesday, you are welcome to come along if you wish to.” Nettie said, a non-pressured way of inviting them into the Community.

 

Echo was pleased things seemed to have gone so well, she glanced up at Aiden, who seemed to be in agreement with her, although there appeared to be something still troubling him. Nettie seemed to notice this too, as she asked if there was anything else concerning them.

 

“It’s just,” Started Aiden, slow and without much confidence in his voice, “It’s just, when he was in my head, what do I do then?”

 

Nettie looked confused, “When who was in your head?” She asked.

 

“When, um, when Mick was in my head.” Aiden clarified, still having trouble saying the name of the Xul.

 

Nettie furrowed her brow, seemingly confused by this idea. She stood up and began to pace the room, “He was in your head how? With telepathy?”

 

“No, not exactly. Why? What’s wrong? Can they not just do that?” Aiden’s voice became sharper and higher as he began to panic about what he and Echo had been assuming was normal all along. Echo held onto his hand as she saw them begin to tremble once again. Aiden was growing in anger as well as nerves, and wanted to shake Echo off of him, though he didn’t, controlling his rage driven impulses. How had she not known this wasn’t normal? Why had it happened? What was happening?

 

“Don’t panic, my dear,” Nettie tried to calm him, “It is not entirely normal for the Xul to be in the minds of the Apsu, no, but I’m sure it can be explained. The Xul have worked to function as a single mind; what one Xul knows is the knowledge of them all. Perhaps they are learning to branch out, or it could have been the effects of a spell. We will not know, I suppose, until we can study it, and see what works against it.” She paced around the room, looking through the bookshelves. She pulled down a small, tan leather bound Lamadu, and handed it to him.

 

“Mind Blocking and Thought Defence Charms,” Aiden read aloud from the embossing on the faded cover.

 

“Have this. Read it, study it, learn some charms for if it happens again, then think on the charms during it, if you can hold on the one part of your mind make sure it is the part with these charms in. They are all I can think to give you for help on that. But we will look into it, the Community here, we will look into what Mick is up to, don’t you worry too much now.” Nettie assured him.

 

Aiden leafed through the yellow stained pages of the Lamadu. From single words to poem like chants, the book seemed to contain a charm for every possible sort of mind or thought issue, from the simple blocking to telepathy, to ways to get others out of mind control situations. He stopped on one of these more extreme pages, looking aghast.

 

“It is not common,” Said Nettie, seeing what he was looking at, “But we must be prepared in case of emergencies. You never know what the Xul can do. And it’s not just them, there are rouge Apsu, not many, not nearly as many as there are Xul, but it is like any species, each will choose their way.”

 

Armed with their blessed stone necklaces and the mind defence Lamadu, Echo was feeling much more positive than she had done earlier. For all Nettie’s riddles, and sentences that made little sense, she had given them the help they had needed, or at the very least, the confidence in her help that they needed to feel safe. Echo’s mind was racing with gratitude and plans, plans for when they would meet with the Community, plans for when they would next Become, oh how she longed to Become again, and perhaps, armed right, they could even go back to the Heath, although she wasn’t so sure how easy it would be to convince Aiden of that.

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