Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 6

Aiden had come round to Echo’s flat after their Tuesday lecture. He now sat, cross-legged, in the middle of her circle of pebbles and crystals in the living room. Echo had decided to start with the basics – meditation and centring of the powers, before moving onto any charms or incantations. Yesterday’s session had gone well, and today Echo thought Aiden should learn some of their culture, as well as his magic, but it would all come with time.


Trying to relax in the entre of the circle, Aiden thought how strange all this was, which in turn became even stranger by the fact that in a way, at times, this didn’t feel strange at all. It felt like what he was meant to do, what had been missing from his life for so many years. Echo and Apsu and magic and Lamadu, it was all so much to take in, but being half aware as he had been before was so much worse than having an entire other world opened up right before your eyes. He still hadn’t told Samantha about any of this yet, though, best not to worry her, he thought; she’d had enough trouble with everything in the first place anyway.

“Okay, open your eyes.” Echo said, slowly, in just above a whisper. She sat behind Aiden, on the sofa, overseeing his meditation and thinking of what he should learn next. She could not believe these were his first times meditating! To think, an Apsu who’s power had never been centred. She feared for all the magic that may be released before his powers could truly be used. His magic seemed strong, in just the days so far, his telepathy had advanced to the point where Echo and him could communicate through it in crowded spaces. It had taken Echo months of practice before she learned how to focus like that.


Aiden opened his eyes and the room fuzzily snapped back into focus. His mind eventually came back, as Echo moved one of the stones, breaking his circle. He stood up and stretched his arms out, clicking his hands backwards against each other.


“You alright?” Echo asked him, seeing how long it took him to come out pof his meditative state.


He looked around, his senses still groggy, “Uh, yeah,” He said slowly, turning his head round to see her, “Yeah I’m fine.”


“Good,” Echo replied, “Feeling more in tune with yourself then?”


Aiden nodded, it took him a couple of seconds to realise that the second part of the sentence was not said out loud, “Hey, what’s wrong with just speaking?” He asked.


It wasn’t so much that he had a problem with telepathy, or magic at all for that matter, how could he when it was so clearly part of him? It was just so new, and moving so fast, where as to Echo all this seemed so normal, so mundane to communicate without speaking, as if it were just the same as speaking out loud.


“Nothing I guess, what’s wrong with thinking? It’s just the same, really,” She replied.


“Just, stick to out loud for now, alright?” He snapped. He wasn’t really angry, it was just too much too fast sometimes, and coming out of the meditation was like being woken up invasively from the most relaxing sleep ever.


“Okay, sorry,” Echo replied, looking at her feet.


“No, I’m sorry.” Echo heard Aiden’s thoughts say. She smiled.


Echo collected up the crystals and stones, placing them in a small canvas drawstring bag before putting them away in a small drawer on the mantle. Aiden went to sit on the sofa while she wne through to the kitchen to make some tea. She filled two mugs with water, and waved the right hand over each of them, eyes closed, mumbling an incantation she didn’t even think of as words any more she had used to much, and thinking of heat. The water was instantly boiled, and she places teabags in each. She had no idea how Lu were patient enough to wait for water to boil. Then again, she knew of electric kettles that made it boil quite fast, her Lu friend, Janet from all those years ago had had one of them. She finished making the tea and carried them back into the living room, handing one of the mugs to Aiden and sitting down on the sofa.


“Thanks,” Aiden said, taking a sip of his tea.


“No problem. So, is there anything in particular that you want to learn today? I thought maybe we could do some Apsu history, because I don’t know how much more practical stuff we can do so early on.” Echo said. She had spoken to Alder about Aiden, partly as her father, but mostly as her Zagmi. It wasn’t so long ago that she was in training to become one herself, but she still felt like guidance was needed when his magic abilities and knowledge rested solely in her hands.


Aiden didn’t say anything to start, he shrugged and crinkled his lips as he thought, “Well,” he said eventually, “There is one thing I’ve been kind of wondering,” He continued, looking at his hands. He wasn’t sure how to word himself without it coming across wrong. He didn’t want to offend Echo, but he knew that anything said against the Apsu, or even just potentially against them, would do so.


Ever since he had found everything out, or rather he had been found out, Aiden had been thinking about magic. Not just his magic, Apsu magic, real magic, but all types, fantasy magic, story book magic, fairy tale magic. In magic, there was never just magic, it was never that simple. There were always two sides, always. There were those who used it well, and those who abused it for power, for glory, for themselves. There was always good and there was always evil. That was just the way it was, but was it the way it was in life as well as stories?


Never knowing that there was true magic in the world meant Aiden had never thought about this before. Even now, he’d only had a week or so to ponder it. But it was a question, and it was one that he thought Echo would probably know the answer.  The only problem was that it scared him to know. Not everything that he’d heard about where Echo was from seemed like it fit on the good end of the spectrum. From what she’d said, they were so restrictive, they shunned the modern world to the extent that generations of them were alienated from mainstream society. But they weren’t evil, they couldn’t be, maybe just slightly misguided. So then where did they fit, and what came below them on the spectrum.


He looked over at Echo, seeing her looking back at him, waiting for his question. But how could he possibly ask her who was evil, without her thinking he meant the Stony Oaks Commune was? When ever she spoke of it, her eyes lit up, she seemed so happy when she thought of it. Maybe it wasn’t worth asking. But then again, there could still be evil if it wasn’t them, and magic evil seemed like the sort of thing he should know about. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out, it was like there was no air left in his lungs, like the bit of his brain that send words to his mouth had shut down.


“Is there evil? I mean, in magic, is there evil? Is it us?”


Aiden’s face went white when he realised what he had done. His eyes remained firmly fixed to his hands for fear of looking at Echo. What had he done? How had this happened when he hadn’t even tried to send that? Why was there no way to delete it, to take it back and have the words un-thought?


“There is evil,” Echo said, at least, “A sort of evil, at least. And no it isn’t us.” She looked at him, putting her hand on his. He looked up, relieved she had not taken offence, “But they are Apsu, the evil ones, the Xul we call them.” Her voice was hushed. The Xul were not something she liked to think about, and even less to talk about.


“What, um, what are like? What do they do?” Aiden asked. He could see she was not comfortable talking about it, but if there was evil or danger around what he needed to know.


Echo shifted in her seat. She had tried hard for years to forget about the Xul, about what they had done, about what they thought and said. But she knew he was right, he did need to know. All Apsu were taught about the Xul, and many didn’t believe the stories. But Echo knew they were more than just legend, she knew that they were real, she had seen them. And she knew that Aiden, more so than most, needed to know as well.


“They’re shape-supremacists. They are Apsu, who are dogs, dogs of all forms.” Echo saw what little colour that was left in Aiden’s face fade. “Of course, not all dog Apsu are Xul. It’s just a few of them. They, um, they bread themselves so they are all dogs. Not that the genetics of Apsu work like that, you know, but they try none the less. And they look out for new recruits, they find young Apsu dogs and try and get them to join their ranks.”


“But how are they evil?” Aiden asked, shaken by the idea that the Xul could so closely connect to him.


“They think they are better than the other forms of Apsu. They think they are the only True Apsu, as they call it. They want to wipe out all other forms, to have us cease to exist to keep their warped view of the magic and science of genetics pure.” She looked over at Aiden. His eyes were wide, and she wished she didn’t have to continue, but he needed to know, he really did.


“They came for my brother once, Storm. It was a couple of years ago, he was maybe thirteen I think, and he’d only even been shifting for less than a year. They knew he was the son of a Zagmi, so they knew he would have power, and they knew that they wanted him to join them. A lot of the Apsu don’t like my family. My mother was not raised in a Community, and she brings Lu culture into our house. When word gets out that a Zagmi’s family has a computer, people aren’t too pleased.” She digressed, “Anyway though, Storm was thirteen. He’s anAkitadog, one of those big fluffy ones, you know?” Aiden nodded, “Yeah, well, they um, they wanted to ‘rescue’ him, from us. The Xul thought we were wrong, they tried to take him, saying he’d be better with them, better with his own kind.” She stopped. She didn’t want to have to remember what happened. She didn’t want to have to tell it to Aiden.


“Do you think, I mean, I know I’m not powerful, but do you think they’d come after me?” Aiden said, thinking of his other form. The jet black long haired Labrador Retriever, with the tuft of white on his neck, and his green eyes in contrast. At that same moment, Echo was thinking of the exact same thing.


There was silence, more silence than Aiden felt comfortable with hearing right, and he took her silence to mean that there could be trouble.


“But it’s okay though, right?” He asked, “I mean, Storm, he’s fine, isn’t he, so they can’t be that bad.”


Echo stayed silent. She didn’t want to tell him. She didn’t want him to know that if he was in danger, it would be her fault. With her help, Alder had broken the minds of the lead Xul who tried to take Storm. Broken his mind and his head, Alder had absorbed from the Xul all the secrets of them, all their plans and how to stop them, before he killed the Xul. The only man he had ever killed, and Echo was there, helping, willing her father on. The rest of the Xul swore revenge on the Sorrels, on Stony Oaks and their Zagmi, and the family of the Zagmi, and theAkitawho would not believe what they did.


But she could not tell Aiden this. How do you spring this on someone? Until today, Echo had not thought of the Xul in months, years. She had worked hard to keep them from her mind, but now, with Aiden, and hisLabradorand his questions, it was all flooding back.


“Yes, Storm is fine.” She said, finally.


Aiden looked relieved and she was glad of this. She turned her face away form him as she felt her eyes welling up with guilt. She didn’t want him to see, she didn’t want him to ask, and she didn’t want him to be in danger.


But he had seen. He saw stray tears staining her olive toned skin, and they made his insides twist into knots, both because he hated seeing Echo like this, and because he knew whatever she was crying about had to be something sinister. He put his arm round her shoulders, moving closer to her.


“Hey, come on now,” Aiden said, softly. Echo’s hand shot to her face and she wiped the staining from her eyes, her eyeliner smudging round her face as she did so. She looked straight at him, his face now close to hers.


“If the Xul are after you, if they are ever a-a-a-after you, t-t-t-then it’s..” Echo stuttered, trying to force herself to stop crying, “Then it’s m-m-m-my fault.” She managed finally.


Aiden did not know what to say in response, as he didn’t really understand what she was trying to tell him. He rubbed her shoulder in a vain attempt to help her to stop crying, but to no avail. He hated the fact that he had ever brought up the subject of evil, with it having lead to this, regardless of how much better he felt now he knew for certain.


“It couldn’t be your fault.” He stated, wanted to say anything to break the sound of her sadness.


“They want revenge on us, they have sworn it. And if they come for you, that will be them trying to get it, to get to me, I am sure of it.” Echo’s voice came through clearly.


And she was sure of it. However worried, however upset it made her, she wad glad that Aiden had asked, otherwise her mind would have never let her remember. She didn’t want the same thing that had happened to Storm to happen to Aiden, but Dogs were rare, Storm and Aiden were the only ones Echo had ever met, aside from all the Xul. If they were going to try to come for Aiden, she needed to know how to fight, and Aiden needed to learn how to protect himself against their magic with his own.


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