Mark of the Shadow Part 19: Compasses Point Home
The first thing you do to learn. Copy. It’s how we learn to speak, walk, and it’s why we understand what a handshake is. Still it seemed odd that it was the way in which I was learning magic.
I found a spot on the opposite bank of the stream. A place where my own willow tree could flourish. The ground was soft as I dug a hole for my start. The ground was warm on my hands and knees. I replaced the dirt after securing my stick.
Three things, I thought. My heart was in my throat.
“Don’t be scared,” said Rolph. “Remember your emotional state directly influences the impact of your magic.”
I swallowed. I reached into the pouch and felt as much as heard dry herbs rustle through my fingers. Dried oak leaves mixed with foxtail. I took hold of a pinch between my fingers. I raised my hand above my tree start. I felt myself calm. This power, this feeling welled up inside of me. It was always there; it was overpowering the shadow inside. This was the first time that I’d felt free of the shadow since I’d been cursed.
Panic: what was the word. I looked to Rolph. He looked back and motioned back to the ground. My target. The shadow was returning, my stomach ached. My head burned with a unquenchable flame.
“The word,” I muttered.
I tried to muster up the feeling that I’d felt for a moment. I knew it was there, that all I needed was to call for it. But it wouldn’t come. The pain, the pressure of the shadow was too much.
“Sechosida,” I said dropping the herbs. A moment later I dropped to the ground with them. Rolph was by my side lifting me up in an instant.
I was watching the stick sure that I’d failed. Rolph was only looking at me.
“How did it feel?” he asked.
“It was beautiful Rolph, but, but I couldn’t keep it.”
“No,” said Rolph. “No, no one can.”
My stick broke just then. It snapped right in half. I looked away. I was crying. I must have been crying for a while for I noticed tears drying on my cheeks.
“It was so wonderful,” I manage.
“I know.” Rolph got up and pulled me up by my arm. “Meditation the rest of the day.”
Meditation was hard. For hours I sat, lay, leaned. I couldn’t stop thinking about how it felt free of my curse. To be something else for just a small while. Something greater than myself. Rolph said to skip lunch. That wasn’t fun, but after my stomach stopped growling at me I did lose myself in the familiar ocean of unconsciousness that took me while meditating. It was dusk when I came to. I felt better, refreshed, and the shadow would not bug me tonight. I slid my thumb and forefinger around the jade necklace hanging around my neck as I walked back to the cabin. It was smooth, but rough enough to get a grip. I noticed I was pulling on it absent-mindedly, the string straining against my neck. I let go of the necklace in fright. If the necklace fell off me, the shadows would know where I am. And I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to fight them off, not again. My hand moved to the back of my neck where I could feel the mark in my skin that the string had put there. It was deep.
At the cabin I was surprised to discover that Rolph was not back yet. He must be hunting or meditating, I thought. Cezary was in the kitchen with a kettle of tea awaiting our arrival. A stew simmered on the fire. He smiled at my return. Apparently our spat was long forgotten. At least on his part.
“Cezary, may I ask why you didn’t want me lookin through those things over there?” I said pointing to the dresser I had opened this morning. It was closed now.
Cezary poured a cup of tea for the both of us. He handed me a clay mug halfway full. He took a sip and sat down on the floor. I followed suit.
“Those are my sisters belongings.” I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. “She came with me to the new world. Yes, full of opportunity. Thats what they say… But not every new beginning is a happy one,” Cezary swallowed. I could tell he didn’t like talkin bout his past. “She traveled with me, through the thick and the thin. We had no friends, we kept each other company. She almost made it,” he paused. “here, she almost made it here. There was a… skirmish in the surrounding countryside. This battle decided nothing. No feud settled, no good deed done, no land extended, power did not exchange hands. But people died all the same. She wasn’t meant to be one of them.
We were crossing through when the battle broke out. We were walking among the trees. A young boy, he saw our shapes through the brush and he fired in his frenzy. She was hit. I stopped the bleeding. We got her to town, the boy was sorry for what he did. I couldn’t forgive him. But I was young, younger and I thought I could save her. I was studying the same thing back then you see. But I wasn’t ready, I was foolish. The Mormons let us stay because she was injured, but they did not want us to stay long. Catholics may as well be witches in this country,” he said laughing and looking up at me for the first time.
“I knew what to do. A simple transplant was what she needed. I needed a fresh organ though. I would have used my own but, then who would preform the operation? I’m not proud of what I did. It’s why I can never show my face outside again. I’m a monster little Anne. The boy who shot her, he didn’t know. He made a mistake… I didn’t care about the sin I was committing. I wish I did, for then at least guilt would feel right. A boy, a boy who could have lived to have a family of his own is dead because of me, and for what? I was too late. She didn’t make it. I left that night with our belongings.”
“Your belongings,” I continued. Cezary’s story was horrifying but I knew he was trustworthy. Daddy’d said we learned from our mistakes. I couldn’t condemn him now for the man he had been, ‘sides I had something on my mind. I pulled out the compass from my pocket and tossed it to Cezary. It’s gold and silver design sparkled as it flew.
“What is this?” he said opening it and tapping it.
“A broken one.”
“Don’t think so.”
“Compasses point north darling.”
“This one points here,” I said flatly.
“It’s pointing west dear,” he flipped the compass around to show me.
“Go outside on the west side and it will point east.”
Cezary’s eyes narrowed. “Are you absolutely sure?” I nodded. “Then I know what it’s pointing to.” Cezary got up leaving his tea sitting on the floor.
“We were in New York,” he said practically shouting on his way towards the dressers. “My sister loved mechanical things. I tried to tell her that the human body is the worlds greatest machine, but she preferred metal to flesh. It was sitting on a stand, and she knew she had to have it. I admit it was beautiful for a hunk of metal. I knew I’d seen this design somewhere,” he said shaking the compass in his fist. He dug out the golden orb I’d seen that morning. Sure enough the pattern adorning the compass, a thousand swirling lights, was on the orb.
“It cost a fortune in favors and jobs meaning we were in New York for longer than planned…but I loved my sister more than anything in the world. For her I could spare this. Here,” he said, and he handed me the compass and the orb. One in each hand. “Let me go check on the stew.”
I held them, and they were quite heavy. The orb was completely smooth, completely round. I could hear a ticking inside when I lifted it to my head. The orb was getting harder to hold so I put down the compass on top of the dresser and held it in both hands. It seemed like the ticking was getting louder, but I couldn’t be sure.
Just then a sharp hot pain shot into my hands. A thousands points of pain breached my skin, and pain was the last thing I remember.