Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 9

Echo sat, perched forward on her seat in Lecture Theatre 4 of the Humanities and Social Sciences building, listening to the tall, balding lecture read off of a slide show presentation about “British Society in a Globalising World”. While everyone else in the room, Aiden included, seemed rather bored by this topic, Echo would usually have found it fascinating. British society was exactly what she had wanted to know, British Apsu was so vastly different from Lu British society, so it seemed to her at least. Today, however, Echo’s mind was anywhere but the lecture theatre.

 

It had been a week since their run in with Mick, and still they were both shaken by it. Aiden insisted he could feel Mick’s grasp at times, that he could hear Mick’s voice trying to contact him. When he told her this, Echo did not know what to say. Echo felt responsible for Aiden, for his wellbeing in all that was Apsu, without her, he would have been content in not knowing anything about what he was, about the culture and the dangers that came with it. But without her, he would also have never learnt how to use his powers, this grasp he was now getting on using magic that made him feel like the person he had never gotten to be before.

 

Aiden tried to listen to the lecture, but the lectures voice was steeped in monotone formalities that made his mind not wasn’t to pay attention and his ears not want to listen. For the last week, Aiden’s mind had never entirely felt like his own, since the clutches of Mick’s power, since that inability to move took over his other form.  He knew that Echo felt guilty, but he didn’t blame her for what was happening. Without her, if the Xul had tried to track him down, he wouldn’t have even known who they were, wouldn’t have even known that they were a threat. The problem with knowing, however, is not knowing what to do with the knowledge. Aiden knew that the Xul existed and he vaguely knew what they wanted, he just did not know what there was that he could stop from happening that otherwise would have happened.

 

For days now, Echo had been racking her memory, trying to remember any of the defence charms she had been taught as a child. She knew protection charms, she cast them routinely on her flat, just as everyone had done in Stony Oaks, but defence charms, they were a whole different kettle of fish. Where a protection charm was passive, cast as a act of safeguarding, a defence charm was active, it needed a threat to defend against. As a result, they were far less common, and often only taught to children in case of emergencies and then swiftly forgotten. She was certain she had written one down in her Lamadu when she was younger, but neither her not Aiden could find one in there. There was one person, however, that Echo was certain would know many defence charms; her father, Alder, the Zagmi of Stony Oaks. If her Zagmi had not been her father, she’d have had no qualms asking for defence charms, but a defence charm meant that there was something wrong, something to be defended against. It meant worrying her father and the rest of her family, it meant telling them that the thing they feared most, the legendary Xul, were back, and on her metaphysical tail. It also probably meant telling them about Aiden.

 

Echo had not spoken too often to her mother in her time here. There were the weekly phone calls and check-ins, but that was it really. Not real conversation to speak of. In some ways, Echo was glad, as it meant keeping Aiden and her new Lu life separate from the world of Stony Oaks. But then, when it came to matters like the Xul, Echo longed for the security of the Commune, where her father, her Zagmi, could protect the Community from these rogue Apsu. Instead, she was the most experienced in magic around, and it would fall to her to be in charge. The thought of this, of the responsibility, made Echo’s stomach feel like it was no longer attached to her body, like it was floating past her, guilt and anxiety overwhelming her body, making her hands shake as it coursed through her veins.

 

“Stop thinking about it, it’ll work out okay.” She heard from Aiden as his hand reached on top of hers. His powers were growing, getting stronger every day he spent with her. He could sense what she was feeling most of the time now, although he didn’t like to tell her in case she thought he was prying into her mind. Echo tried to relax, she seemed to spent so much time now trying to relax, and was struggling to understand quite how it was done. It sounded so easy, relax, but the act of trying to work out how it was done seemed so stressful, it was hardly worth it.

 

The lecture began to wrap up. Echo looked down at her notebook to see the date, heading, and a sketch of Mick’s Bulldog form staring back at her. She slammed the book shut and grabbed her bag to put it away in before Aiden could see, before following him out of the class into the hallway.

 

“Want to come get some lunch?” Aiden asked her once they were out. Echo did, she wanted to spend all her time with Aiden these days, but she was so distracted, so distant from the world, trying to work out how she would be able to protect them, trying to work out if the threat of the Xul was even as bad as she thought. There was no way Mick could have traced them, what with the rain and them changing back into their human forms, but the Xul had powers that no Apsu had. They worked with the darkness, absorbing it’s abyss to convert into energy and power. They could do things no Apsu could, and they had a score to settle still with the Sorrels.

 

And yet, in spite of this, she found herself nodding in agreement, and, twenty minutes later, sitting next to him on the sofa at the back of The Coffee House, Panini on the table and tea in hand.

 

“I was thinking,” Aiden began, “About Mick, about the Xul. Why have we assumed that they are after me? They may not even want me, Mick didn’t realise who you were, for all he knew I was just an Apsu on Xul land, and Apsu who he thought needed recruiting. Maybe that was all he wanted, and he’s forgotten about it now.”

 

Echo sighed, “Mick doesn’t forget. He tracked Storm for months before he even did anything, before he found us. He wont give up if he sets his eyes on you, if he decides he wants you to be one of his Xul, he wont give up until you are or he has his revenge.”

 

Aiden was lost for what to say in response to this, instead sipping his coffee and trying to get the sight of Mick out of his head.

 

“We will find a way though,” Echo said, “Like last time, we managed then and we will do so now. But we must stop thinking about him. Even if he’s not tracking our scent he could be tracking out minds, thoughts of him will be easier for him to detect, and we really can’t risk that.”

 

“Echo, I know you wont like this, but what we have to do is speak to your father. From what you have told me, a Zagmi is exactly what we need. please Echo, you don’t even have to tell him everything.” Aiden urged her,

 

“But what would I tell him? How would I not tell him everything? If he thinks that the Xul are here he will make me go back to Stony Oaks and that will be that. No moreLondon, no more Lu culture or anything, and no more seeing you.” She said, reaching her hand out to his knee.

 

“But Echo, love, I won’t be here to see if the Xul get me.” He told her, partly to try and persuade her to ask Alder for help, but partly out of genuine worry.

 

And he Aiden had won, “Okay,” Echo resigned, “I will phone him this evening.” She promised.

 

***

 

Echo sat in her circle of stones, trying to gather her mind, trying to think of what she was going to say to her father. Aiden was right, though, she did have to speak to him, if not for her and Aiden, then for her family’s sake. If Mick was back, and looking like an Alpha, his new pack may be gathering strength, biding their time before attacking at Stony Oaks. She knew her father would prefer her to contact him telepathically, he was not a fan of the telephone, she could not risk having anyone intercept the signal. That was the problem with telepathy, if an Apsu tried hard enough, and had enough power, they could hear every conversation between every Apsu taking place in the telepathic radio waves at any given moment. Granted it would take a lot of power, more power than Echo thought even Mick probably had, but it was still better to be safe and use the phone for matters such as these.

 

She opened her eyes and reached out for one of the stones, breaking her circle. There was nothing more she could do to put it off, it was time. She stood up, collecting up her stones and making her way over to the sofa. She picked up her telephone from the coffee table and started to scroll through the numbers, her body nervous before she had even started. He back was dead straight, her shoulders tensed, and her hands trembling as she scrolled down the numbers in the phone. She wished Aiden was here with her, but she had told him she needed to make the call alone, a decision she was now regretting. Before she could talk herself out of it, she pressed the call button, holding the phone to her ear and wishing that no one would be there to answer the call.

 

It rang six times, by which point Echo had started to think that maybe no one was in.

 

“Hello?” She heard coming down the receiver, her mother’s voice dragging her back from her alternative scenario.

 

“Hi mum, it’s Echo.”

 

“Well of course it is, my darling, who else would be calling here? How are you? We only spoke the other day.” She asked, “Not that it isn’t lovely to hear from you.”

 

“I’m alright,” Echo tried to convince herself that she wasn’t lying, “I, um, I was calling to talk to dad, actually.”

 

“Oh Echo, you know how he hates all this technology. Could you not have just sent a thought?” Fawn pleaded, knowing that Alder talking to his daughter on the phone would lead to another rant on how the Lu have invaded traditional Apsu life.

 

“I know, it was just kind of long for a message. I met another Apsu you see, only he wasn’t raised with Apsu, he was raised like you, sort of, just with nothing Apsu, nothing at all, he didn’t even know the word Apsu, mum.” Echo gabbled, wanting this to seem like the important part of the story, not wanting to worry her mother with talk of the Xul if it was not absolutely imperative for her to do so.

 

“Oh you did?” Her mother replied, “How exciting, yes, your father willn be glad to hear that. You are using your Zagmi training and knowledge to show him the ways, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes, yes Mum.” Echo replied, wishing her mother would put her father on the line so she could get asking him for help out of the way, “Could I speak to Dad, then?”

 

“Yes, yes of course, darling, here he is!” Her mother chimed.

 

“Hello?” His voice came down the line, deep and authoritative, yet wary of this strange technology. Echo had never spoken to her father on the telephone before, she wasn’t even sure he’d ever used it before if she really thought about it.

Echo panicked, she hadn’t thought of how this conversation should begin, she was so worried about the outcome she had given no thought to worry about the content.

 

“Hello?” Alder’s voice came through again.

 

Gradually, words began to tumble out of Echo’s mouth. She told him of Aiden, partly at least, she told him she was teaching him how to use his magic, she told him of their day and night in the Heath. She did not want to mention Mick by name, so she simply said that they thought there may be some Xul in the surrounding area.

 

“What you need my dear, is not any one thing I can give to you over the phone, though I wish it were. What you need is a Community, their pooled resources and power, if you want protection from the Xul.” Alder said slowly.

 

Echo’s head lowered, knowing he was about to tell her the only way he could help her would be if she went back to Stony Oaks.

 

But he didn’t. He didn’t say anything of the sort in fact. His voice was calm, rational ,He paused for a while, long enough to make Echo start to panic again, her breathing erratic while Alder’s was slow and paced.

 

“Do you remember,” Alder began, “When you first left? When I told you it would not be safe, not be right for you to live alone, my love?”

 

Echo nodded, before realising her father could not see her, he continued on regardless, “Do you remember what else I told you? What I told you about the wider community?”

 

Echo thought back, trying to make sense of what it was her father was telling her. The wider community were all the other Progressive Apsu Communes, most were affiliated in some way or another with each other. And then it came to her.

 

“The other community, the one on the outskirts of the city,” She began, forming the words slowly, as they came into her consciousness, “You think I should talk to them?”

 

“Yes, and I think you should warn them. If Xul are about, they will need to know as much as you need them to help you. I know their Zagmi, her name is Nettie Adams, I will contact her for you and tell you how and where to find them once I have done.” He said simply, as if he was surprised that Echo had not just asked for this all along.

 

Echo breathed a sigh of relief, though her hands still trembled, it was not from excitement and adrenaline. A new Community, even if they were not truly part of it, was exactly what she needed, a support system, back-up, and a Zagmi who knew more than she did. She thanked Alder, and they continued on a quick conversation of pleasantries before their phone-call ended. Once it had done, she put the phone down on the table before getting her stones back out and re-forming her circle. She stepped inside it and sat down cross legged, centring her breathing.

 

“Aiden,” She sent, her meditation and new found excitement making her powers feel strong, “Come over, I have news.”

 

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