I am moving trough the crowds heading for the temple of Zeus. It’s a bright autumn day, with just a touch of coming frost in the air. The temple is ridiculously big, and the crowds are likewise. The lines move slowly towards the entrance, and police checks our admission tickets with great care. The gate to the temple is meant to make us feel small and insignificant. Zeus is such a show off. I move slowly into the great halls. The ceiling is high above us, and every word and sigh create an echo. There is white marble everywhere, and it is like a spa bath to me. I forgive Zeus his pretentiousness. I do so love marble. Rows and rows of benches have been lined up around the center of the big hall. Wooden most of them. I find a cool marble bench. A gentleman rises from a wooden bench with cushions and offers his place to me, but I thankfully decline. I sit back and relax. The proceedings are about to start: will the high priests or will they not recognize the presense of benign non-human entities? Translated to: will the temples accept that nymph and the like exists? I am sure I am not the only nymph here, so I send out feelers. It is dificult to get a clear sense of anything. The priests distort and warp any feedback. They talk and talk, supposedly in bretonian, but it is like they speak a language all of their own, and it’s difficult to follow their arguments and reasonings. My interest is wavering.
The sound of water reaches my ear, and I see a child playing with the water in on of the pools in the temple. I wonder what a child is doing here at the proceedings. The water makes me remember the woman in the river, when I was a child. The one who said that we were of the same kind, but not related. I wonder is she is here? I look around.
The sun’s glint in the water makes me look back at the child. There is something about her. I get up, and edge over to her. The crows is so thickly packed here that I accidently step on a few toes – and get quite a few ugly looks as a reward – before I can get over to the pool and the girl. “You are missing the whole show” the girl says, and lets the water run through her fingers. The water drips thick as jello from her hand and into the water. She lets a drop rest on her finger and shows me. She winks “The humans are getting is all wrong as usual”. She is a nayad – a water nymph. I smile “It is hard for them to understand people who are different from them. We have to be patien” I say. “Yeah…” the girl says and creates a small whirlpool in the water with her finger “But we have time”. I nod. I know that she is right, but I don’t know exactly why. I feel a little awkward. This small child seems to know more about our kind than I do. “I… I don’t know so much about it” I say “I have always been alone. I don’t know much about… well, about us”. She looks up at me, and I almost drown in those bright blue eyes that seem ancient and young all at the same time “Most of us are alone now” she says “It’s easier to fit into the human world that way. Like when you put cows in a horse’s pasture, so it won’t feel so alone”. I see her point, but “You can’t learn to be a horse, when you are with cows all day” I say “Even if I do love my cows”. I smile at her. I put my hand on the edge of the pool, and let my hand match the marble. “I am an onead. I am guessing you are something watery?”. “A nayad, yes. Do you have an aunt?” she asks. I shake my head “I don’t think I have any family. The people I grew up with had just taken me in, and not willingly”. “I had an aunt” the girl says wistfully “She sang my song. But I can’t find her anymore. Her river has gone all murky because of the spinnery”. “Oh, I am so sorry to hear that” I say. How terrible! Truly nature and industry is a poor match. I feel terrible for the nayad who’s river is poluted and dead! “Do I have an aunt to, you think?” I ask after a while “One who knows my song?”. The girl shrugs “Maybe. If she carried your egg. Did anyone carry your egg?” I frown. I have no idea. “I don’t know” I say “I don’t know anything about where I came from. I came from an egg?” The girl grins “Nayads do. Little blue eggs” She giggles. I smile at her “Maybe it’s different with oneads. I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone like me. Have you met anyone like me?” She shakes her head “Not in the city. My aunt said that many nymphs have gone to more secluded places. Far away from humans, where it isn’t so hard to keep the facade”. I remember how Mackenzie told me about the desolation of Strathclyde, long stretches of rocks and cliffs and no people. Maybe I can find oneads there? I smile at the child “Can I visit your river once?” I ask. “Sure” she says “Just don’t get in it – you’d sink” She laughs for quite a while. I smile at the old joke. Yes, I sink. Like a rock!
A silence falls over the crowds behind us: the priests have finished their discussion and are preparing to vote. Addendum 412 – reclassifying of non-human entities – is accepted. I clap along with most of the crowd. Nymphs are no longe in the same category as demons. Thank you very much!
I talk a little while longer with Diane, the nayad, and she tells me where to find her river. She is a tributary to the river that runs through the spinneries and tanneries, but upstream from them. She brags how she flows through a nice neighbourhood with big houses and parks and lawns. Boat bridges stretch into her waters, and in the summer children swim in her river and young men take young woman boating. This makes her giggle like crazy again. I will be sure to visit her this winter!
I pass by The Hound and the Huntsman on the way back to see if there are any postcards from Cassie. She promised to write. There are three: One for me, one for Vincent and one for everybody. I skim mine and it ends ‘Give Vincent a big hug from me!’. So all is well and I am at ease. I read the card from the top again. She talks about sunshine and beaches and colorful drinks and beautiful sunsets. Nothing of Sibyl at all. But she must expect Sibyl to read her postcards, and would of course be discreet. The card for all of us is pretty much identical to mine, only minus the hugging of Vincent. I don’t read Vincent’s card. At home I put the common card on the dinner table for all to see, and bring Vincent his card. He grabs it eagerly and are uncommunicative for a while. He took it hard, when Mrs M told us that Cassie was on an undercover mission investigating Lady Sibyl (well, actually what she said was that Cassie ‘had gone on vacation with our archenemy’) Only I know the truth about it, and I am sworn to secrecy.
Over the winter postcards come regularly. All with hugs to Vincent and not a single mention of Niall. Vincent seems manic. Allways going somewhere and meeting someone. He seems determined to decorate the entire house, and we now have used, but decent furniture in all private and common rooms. Even Mrs Winterbottom got a new bed and a a new dresser (used new). We have new wall paper and new carpets, and the house is beginning to feel like home. I’m afraid Vincent is working too hard, though. He suffers from great headaches, which his medicine doesn’t really abate. I’m a bit worried, but we are both so busy that we hardly get to talk.
Max is couped up in his workshop. He is working on a new invention – better working artificial arms and legs. It’s a bit unnerving to visit him in his workshop. There seems to be severed arms and legs everywhere – artificial off course, but still. He has explained to me how they work, and they seem quite ingenious. I think there is a future for many people here.
Henry keeps to his study. He was probably the most upset of us all, when he heard about Cassie and Sibyl. He does not trust Lady Sibyl at all, and he should know. He is researching into how to detect mindcontrol, brainwashing, magical control etc very delligently. His only breaks are when Elrieke come by to see him. Elrieke is the Queens lover of honor (secret!), and when she came by the first time to thank us for saving the Queen, she and Henry became good friends. She comes by for tea every other week. She is very sweet and quiet, and I really like her. I totally get why the Queen loves her. How can you not?
Mackenzie is in Götaland. Callum is abroad this winter, so when Sophia and her other associates invited her to visit them, she gladly accepted. She is going to learn how to ski, and hopefully she will bring back some of that wonderful cloudberry jelly. We’ve run out ages ago, and I really like that the best.
I am unusually popular, after it was decided that nymphs and other ‘benign entities’ are seperate beings from ‘malign entities’ and commonly accepted (well, sort of). Lots of people – the young first-movers mostly – are eager to get tattoos that show that they are somehow connected to the occult – that’s what they call it. And apparently my designs are really popular. I admit that no matter what they ask for, I sneak in a little magical ward against evil in their tattoos. People who get too fascinated by the occult, sometimes cross the line into stupidland, and try to court the bad side of it. My wards hopefully keep them from getting too hurt.
I take time out to visit Diane. Her little river is half frozen over, so she is a little grumpy and tired. A steady stream in the middle prevent it from completely freezing over, even when the ponds and lakes in the city does. I have tried to help her find her aunt, but it is nigh impossible. The factories do not let anyone onto their property, and they are really prickly, when one talks to them about how much they pollute the river. The area is less smelly in the winter, but it still stinks. I feel really sorry for Diane’s aunt! She must have suffocated long ago.
Today I learnt Diane’s age: she is 56, though she look not much younger than 8. She was surprised that I am 33 – she thought I was much, much older. Maybe oneads age differently than nayads? Or maybe the conditions I grew up under have affected my aging. Humans usually think I am only about 20, which is also off, just in the other direction. I study all the books I can about nymphs, but it is mostly stories, and not much about how we actually work, how we live, make babies, what kills us. Besides iron.
Finally Cassie comes home! She looks tan and healthy. She goes through a very thorough health check (all the precausions Henry could think up). She looks and acts like herself, and I detect nothing strange going on with her. Henry is both angry and sceptical, even though Cassie tries to explain to him that she is alright. Henry says to me, that she might not know if Lady Sibyl has affected her or done something to her, and that we must watch her closely. Vincent and Cassie have a long talk, and I stay out of their way.
Callum comes! I am so happy to see him! He was called back to help check up on Cassie, and he is very worried about her. They have a good long talk too. I don’t know what they talked about, but Callum gets very agitated. Not about Cassie, though. Mackenzie comes home too, from Götaland, just as I recieve the note from Mrs M, summoning me to her office. So I don’t get to say more than hello, and give her a hug.
The evaluation of Grace
I wait outside Mrs M’s office. I was called here on my own. Cassie told me not to worry, but I do. I try to think what I might have done wrong lately, but nothing in particular springs to mind. Mrs M opens the door and asks me to come in. She gestures towards a chair in front of her desk and I sit. It can’t be too bad, if I’m allowed to sit.
“Well, Grace”, she begins “I finally found time to do this. It has become very clear this past year that you are what we call a benign entity. You are not human, but you do not seem to be a threat to us. I have assured my colleagues – with the aid of Dr. and Mrs. Edwards – that you are in fact an asset to us. What we must discover now is in what way we can use your special abilities, and to do that we must learn more about you”. She rings a bell, a door opens and two people both wearing lab coats enter. I suppress a shudder. They look like doctors. “This is Dr. Dayton” she indicates a cheerful looking middle aged woman, who shakes my hand and say “SO delighted to meet you!”. “And Dr. Husk” Mrs M indicates the other, a sour looking man with a thin nose, who merely nods at me with a look of someone who just found something distasteful under his shoe. The look reminds me of Niall. “For the next couple of days these two doctors will try to discover what your abilities actually are. You are to do everything they ask. They report directly to me. Please go with them”. She stands up and so do I. Dr Dayton gestures towards the door and I leave with them.
Dr. Dayton and Dr. Husk take me by coach to a laboratory outside of town. To begin with they just ask all kinds of questions about my life and my thoughts about things. They have studied my files obviously and asks a lot of clarifying questions. Dr. Dayton is pleasant and Dr Husk is taciturn. She smiles a lot and is very interested, while he scowls and sniffs. She makes me feel proud of what I am, while he makes me feel ashamed. It is very confusing. They are both surprised when they learn my age. They know that I was saved by Cassie and Dr. Edwards 13 years ago, but they figured I was a very young girl at the time. Dr. Dayton is dismayed when she learns I was in the asylum for 5 whole years.
On the second day we do experiments. We try to establish how well I detect magic. We try all sorts of different kinds of magic, different origins, different strengths, different distances. It is sort of fun actually. I enjoy it. I feel natural magic the best, and titan magic second best. I feel creatures better than things. I feel the practice better than the object.
On the third day we try to see how well I move through stone. I am glad I have practiced with Henry and Cassie. I can control now when I want to move through it, so I don’t accidentally just fall through it like I did in the beginning, and when I am affected by alcohol or foreign magic. I walk through brick walls and cliff walls. I attempt walls of compressed sand, but that confuses me. I get disorientated by all the tiny stones. At the final wall I get a bad sense even before I touch it. I reach out to touch it, and draw back. “I can’t go through this one’ I say. “Why not?” Dr Husk asks. “Iron” I say “There is iron in it”. Dr. Husk makes notes “So iron deters you? How?”. “Yes, how does it feel?” Dr Dayton asks. I try to explain “It hurts. It feels like my skin is on fire, when I am in direct contact with it”. Dr Husk pales a little. Dr Dayton frowns at him “You said it wouldn’t hurt her, only detain her magic” she says accusingly. “How was I to know?” he defends himself “We hadn’t studied it before now”. Dr Dayton explains “You were shackled in iron during your trial on Dr Husks recommendation”. I shrug “It’s alright. Callum found some cloths so the iron wasn’t in direct contact with my skin. You didn’t know and were scared. I understand. I took no lasting damage”. Dr Dayton gives me a hug, and Dr Husk has the decency to look a little embarrassed.
The fourth day we are indoors. There is a gym of a kind with an obstacle course. At the end of the gym there are windows into the next room. I start out with some physical tests – strength, speed, the like. After lunch Mrs M shows up with a couple of the guys from team D. I wave at Toby and he nods back in a subdued manner. He and Lucius carries a heavy looking crate into the gym. Mrs M and the others – including the doctors – retreats to behind the windows, and leaves me alone in the gym with the crate. Dr Dayton scribbles something on her notepad and shows it to me. The sign says ‘Open the crate’. So I open it. It is lined with iron, and I feel a little nauseated. In the middle there is a box with protective runes on it. I look up at them. ‘Take out the box’ Dr Dayton mouths at me. I take out the box and open that too. Inside is the familiar box holding the Apple of Strife. I look up at Mrs M. She looks very strained. She motions me to open the box and take out the Apple. I keep looking at her. Can she really mean this? She nods at me reassuringly and motions to me with her hand to go on. I take a deep breath and open the box. The apple looks like itself. I thought they had packed it far away after the incident with Max, but here it is. I pick it up. I can feel it’s power surge through me. I am allpowerful again. Dr Dayton scribbles on her notepad again: ‘On my mark do the obstacle course again’. I put the Apple in my pocket. I can’t do the obstacle course with it in my hand. Even with the Apple in my pocket I can feel it’s power surge through me. I look at Dr Dayton. She shows me three fingers, then two, then one, and I run. I do the obstacle course with ease, faster than ever. When I stop in front of the windows they all stare at me. Mrs M closes her mouth with a snap. Dr Dayton stands with her timer and forgets to stop it. Dr Husk glares. Toby and the others merely stare incredulously at me with open mouths. Dr Dayton remembers to stop the clock. She spins her finger to ask me to do it again, and she counts down from three. I run the course again. This time she remembers to stop the timer and notes the time. Mrs M and Dr Husk looks at the number, and looks at me. Mrs M does the ‘do it again’ motion with her hand, so I wait for Dr Dayton’s countdown and do it again. After a few more runs where I don’t get slower, we stop. Mrs M turns to speak to Toby. He pales. He looks at me and gives me a timid smile. Then he enters the room. He closes the door behind him, and stays by the door. His voice is hoarse, when he says “I didn’t want to do this, Grace. I’m sorry if I…” He shakes his head. He is beginning to feel the Apple, I can tell. Then he glares at me “The fucking Apple wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your group. Have you any idea how dangerous it is! Should’ve left in the jungle!”. I pity him. I know exactly how dangerous it is. I am not sure what it is Mrs M and the doctors are trying to prove, setting Toby on me. “I know” I say quietly “I’m sorry”. He clenches his fists and comes towards me “Sorry?! You’re sorry? You should’ve left it in the jungle, where you found it!”. I put up my hands, palms towards him. “We couldn’t” I say “Lady Sibyl’s team would’ve…” But I don’t finish, as he is rushing towards me. I recollect my fight with Mackenzie in the jungle, when she was in the Apple’s thrall. He swings at me really slowly, his face distorted, and I duck with ease. I back away. I really don’t want to fight Toby. Experimenting with him like this is wrong. He would never try to fight me if it wasn’t for the Apple. He tries to tackle me, but I step aside and he flounders to the floor. I take the Apple out of my pocket and put it back in its box. And put the box in the other box. I turn to face Toby. He is on his knees, shaking his head and trying to get his bearings. I try to give him a hand up, but he just takes my hand and holds on to it. “I’m sorry, Grace”, he whispers. I get down on my knees next to him, and pats him on the shoulder. “It’s alright” I say. “The Apple is a mean bitch. It wasn’t kind to use it on you”. We sit there awhile, until I hear a rapping on the window. It’s Dr Husk. He gestures to us to get up. Dr Dayton opens the door. We get up. Toby squeezes my hand and gives me a little smile. Then he leaves. Dr Dayton looks at me apologetically. “Just one last thing now, Grace” she says “We’ll get the men to clear out”. She closes the door again, and I can see how she and Mrs M ushers Dr Husk and team D out. Dr Husk objects, but Mrs M says a few choice words to him that I wish I could hear, and he leaves in a huff with a blush. Then Mrs M and Dr Dayton turns towards me. Dr Dayton looks a little embarrassed. Mrs M says something to her and she writes on her notepad ‘Please undress’. I stare at her. She blushes. Mrs M motions as if she unbuttons her blouse. I wish Vincent or Cassie was here. I undress, until I stand naked before them. Mrs M points at the box with the Apple. She wants me to take the Apple. So I do. I hold the Apple in my hand and feel the usual surge. I also feel my skin change. It feels cool. I look down myself. I am brick and cobblestone and marple. The stones of the city. I look at Mrs M and she looks at me, curiously. She says something to Dr Dayton, who seems to disagree with her. Mrs M holds up a hand and then she enters the room. She comes towards me, staring at me. When she stands in front of me she says with clenched teeth: “May I touch you?” I can see she is fighting the Apple bravely. I nod. She puts a hand on my shoulder and runs it down my arm. “It feels just like it looks” she says with wonder. “How does it feel to you?”. Her voice is strained. “Cool” I reply “Pleasant. Listen, Mrs M. I don’t need the Apple to look like this. Let me pack it away”. I put the Apple in its box. And the box in the other box, and the other box in the crate. I turn to Mrs M. Her eyes are closed and she breathes in relief. “Thank you” she almost sighs. Then she looks at me strangely. “I thought you only looked like that when in contact with the Apple. Callum reported…” I smile guiltily. “When I hold the Apple, it’s hard to keep up appearances” I explain “It makes me not care about being different. The fact is that I work at looking normal all the time. My foster mother used to beat me, if I looked… different. I slipped up sometimes. Now I hardly think about it”. Mrs M nods. “What do you prefer?”, she asks quietly. “I prefer to look normal” I say “So people don’t stare or feel awkward around me. Most people don’t know or don’t care that I am different”. She nods and smiles professionally at me. “Thank you, Grace, for indulging me in all this. I am ready to write the report about you now. I am sure I can convince the board of your usefulness to us. I might have further questions for you later”. She turns to leave, but turns back again “And, Grace, do come see me, if there is anything I can do for you”. She nods at me and leaves. I am puzzled. I put my clothes back on. Dr Dayton comes in and shakes my hand and thank me for my cooperation. She tells me that the coach will be ready to take me back to the city in about half an hour. I will be going back alone, since team D and the doctors are either staying here or moving to other locations from here.
I wait in the hallway for the coach to get ready, when Dr Husk passes me. He barely acknowledges me. That also reminds me of Niall, and I can’t help asking: “Excuse me, Dr Husk, if you don’t mind: why don’t you like me? You don’t know me, but you disliked me from the first moment”. He turns to me slowly. His look is malicious, when he starts speaking in a low voice: “Because even though some of the masters think you are a tame pet, you are still just a wild thing, some… creature” He spits out the word. “You are not human. You may look human and they may be fooled by that, but what you really are is the sum of everything we have worked to eradicate: the evil at our bosom. Titan magic in a sugarcoated shell. And they can’t see it. But I can! And I know others can too!” He is in my face now, and I can smell him. Actually mostly I can smell fear. I am trembling. How he hates me! I have never done a single thing to harm him, but he hates me. And I wonder: is this how Niall thinks? Does he find me as distasteful as Dr Husk does? To my own surprise I find that I am not angry. I am not even sad. “Dr Husk” I say “I may not be human, but I would rather be whatever it is I am, than a hateful, scared human like you. You have watched me for days. You know how strong and fast I am, but you have never seen me angry. I don’t have any anger in me towards mere humans. I feel sorry for you. I know things you can never grasp. My world is open and full of light and love, while yours is closed and hateful. Artemis, my relative, watches over me. What god would care to watch over you? What a sad little man you are” I say the last with regret. What a sad life he must lead. How closed and unforgiven. I turn from him. He has ceased to interest me. Out of the corner of my eyes I see him swing at me. I spin around and grab his fist. I squeeze just hard enough to make him realize how easily I might break his wrist. His eyes widen with fear and I let him go. “You are the wild thing” I say “You are the violent one. Not I”. I walk away, hoping the coach is ready. How small some humans are. How close minded. They are very sad and I pity them.