Title: Citlalli and the Wall of Shadows
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Fantasy/Pseudo Young Adult
Page count: 304 pages
Chapter 1: Something Out of Nothing
Citlalli let out a frustrated sigh as her eyes met Mrs. Sanderson’s. She had been so relieved when, in the aftermath of their kidnapping, her friend’s parents had finally been made aware of the existence of magic, but the thing was that, relieved as she’d been by the realization that she would no longer have to hide or sneak around, she had failed to take into account the fact that that also meant that she was going to have no choice but to try to answer their questions… or rather Amelia’s mom’s questions because, truth be told, her father seemed to have decided that he just didn’t want to know. That was the good news. The bad news was that, as far as Citlalli was concerned, Mrs. Sanderson was asking enough questions for the both of them —and then some— and to make matters worse one of those things that had become almost immediately apparent had been that no matter what she did, she was going exactly nowhere. SImply put, she could answer a million questions, but there would always be another million waiting in the wings, and that was really starting to get old.
Oh, in a way she could understand just where it was that Mrs. Sanderson was coming from, after all she remembered all too well her own shock when she’d first found herself in the Land on the Edge of the Wind without really knowing how it was that she’d wound up there in the first place, but the problem was that getting through to her was turning out to be downright impossible.
Yes, the woman was doing her best to wrap her mind around what she was being told, but at the same time it was also apparent that she was having a very hard time trying to come to terms with a reality that was so different from the one she had known all her life. In that regard Amelia’s mom was completely unlike Sylvia. Citlalli remembered how her own mother had always been more amused than troubled at the thought of what she could do, how she had been willing to accept her powers as an integral part of who she was, and how she had done her best to teach her how to use them responsibly while being careful not to hold her back. In hindsight she realized that chances were that that hadn’t been easy, but the bottom line was that the one thing she didn’t remember her mother ever trying to do was understand how her powers actually worked. Now that she thought about it, Citlalli realized just how unusual her mom’s willingness to go with the flow in that regard had been, but at the same time she suspected that that ability was one of the things that had made it possible for Sylvia to accept her existence in the first place, that it was one of the things that had actually made it possible for her to take her current form. After all, one thing Citlalli had come to realize was that most grown ups were absolutely convinced that they were above wishing upon a star, and they most certainly were above accepting the possibility that something —anything— might actually come from making such a wish.
Well, it was apparent that Amelia’s mom was nowhere near that accepting, but in spite of that she finally seemed to be moving past her disbelief… and settling comfortably into the gawking stage. In fact she was currently busy looking from Citlalli to an apple she had just made appear, and back again. Wanting to make a point, the girl took a huge bite out of it. As far as she was concerned, doing that was the most natural thing in the world; as far as Mrs. Sanderson was concerned, that was most definitely not the case.
“How did you do that?” Theresa finally asked, shaking her head.
“I just wished for it,” replied Citlalli with a shrug, being very careful not to let her friend’s mom know that making something as simple as an apple appear was a skill that even Eric had mastered, well, almost.
“And you’ve always been able to do that?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I guess I probably would have been able to pull it off if I’d known I could, but back when I was living with my mom I didn’t, not really, so I never even tried. That was one of the first things I learned how to do when I got to the edge of the wind though. I had to, ‘cause once I was there my choices were pretty much to figure out how to make my food appear in a hurry, or to go hungry.”
“And was it hard?”
“Not really, though it did take me a while to get the hang of it… and I admit that the first time I tried it I really, really blew it.”
“You couldn’t do it?”
“Oh, I could, in fact it worked almost immediately, it’s just that I didn’t really know what it was that I was getting into back then, and the whole thing wound up working a little better than I’d been expecting it to.”
“Better than you’d been expecting it to?” repeated Theresa, not quite following the girl’s reasoning.
“Yeah, I mean, it was on my first day there, and the day before I’d been on the run, so I hadn’t eaten much of anything. Anyway I was really hungry, and when Vyxwz told me to think of what I wanted to eat, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I was hungry enough to eat a horse.”
“Yups, but it ran away, so it didn’t really do me much good. After that I kind of figured that a heaping plate of French toast would probably be a safer bet.”
“But a horse?” insisted Mrs. Sanderson, shaking her head at the thought.
“Yeah, I know, pretty dumb. I mean, talk about being careful with what you wish for and all that. Anyway, it’s no big deal, not once you get the hang of it.”
“But making things appear out of thin air… that shouldn’t be possible!”
“Believe me, I know it looks weird, but that’s magic for you. Well, part of it anyway,” said the girl with a shrug.
“Yes, I get that, but you still shouldn’t be able to make something out of nothing. It’s not just that it looks weird, it’s that it goes against the most basic laws of physics!” insisted Theresa, trying desperately to hold on to some of her certainties.
“Maybe, but I’m not really making it appear out of nothing,” replied Citlalli, not quite knowing how to explain.
“What do you mean you’re not making something appear out of nothing? I saw you do it with that apple, and you just told me that even though it looks weird, that’s just the way magic works!”
Citlalli let out a frustrated sigh at that. She knew she was going to have no choice but to try to explain, but that didn’t mean that she was looking forward to it… not considering that that particular question went to the heart of some things she was still struggling to understand.
“Yes, but what I said was that I can make something appear out of thin air, not that I can make something out of nothing, and even though those two kind of sound like the same thing, they’re not. In fact it all kind of boils down to the fact that thin air is not nothing. I mean, the air is all around us, and as long as it’s there we don’t give it much thought. We can’t see it, and we can’t grab it, but if it weren’t there we would most certainly notice… or maybe we wouldn’t, ‘cause if it weren’t there we’d be kind of dead, but that’s another story. Anyway, it’s precisely because the air’s not nothing that I can transform it into something else. It’s like this: if I were to take an orange or a pear, and turn it into an apple, that would still look kind of weird to you, but you wouldn’t think it was anywhere near that impossible, right?” asked the girl.
“I guess,” hedged Theresa, who was still trying to wrap her mind around the girl’s explanation… and failing miserably.
“Well, turning the air into something else is not really all that different. It may look different, but it’s not.”
“And you can make anything appear, just like that?”
“Not yet. I’ll be able to do it someday, but seeing how I’m just a kid, for the time being I’m stuck with things that don’t weigh too much more than I do.”
“But you told me that the first time you tried it, you wound up making a horse appear,” Theresa reminded her.
“Yes, but it was just a tiny horse, one that appeared on the plate I was using to focus my attention at the time, so magic or no magic doing that with a full sized one wouldn’t have worked ‘cause there was just no way I could have made it fit.”
“And what became of it?”
“Of the horse? I’m not sure. According to Vyxwz it must have disappeared after a few hours, or maybe it managed to hang around for a day or two, but the thing is that even though that horse looked like it was alive at the time, magic can’t really be used to create life. Sure, it can be used to mimic it for a little while, but that’s just an illusion.”
“But an apple is alive.”
“No, not really. An apple comes from a tree, and the tree is alive, but that’s a different thing altogether. Of course, since a tree doesn’t move, I could probably create something that sort of looks like a tree if I wanted to, something that would actually hold, and chances are that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference just by looking at it because you can’t sense the magical energy, but it wouldn’t have a life force of its own, it wouldn’t be connected to that energy that binds all living things together in any form whatsoever, and it wouldn’t be able to grow, or die, or anything like that. It would just sit there, doing nothing. As for the apple, it looks like an apple, it tastes like an apple, and as far as my body is concerned it works just as well as a real apple would because it’s made of the same basic stuff, and that’s really the only thing my body cares about, but if I were to take one of its seeds and plant it, that wouldn’t do me one lick of good because that seed doesn’t have the same potential a real seed has. It has no life force of its own… so do you want one?”
“One what?” asked Theresa.
“An apple,” said Citlalli with a smirk, making one appear.
After hesitating for a moment Theresa took the proffered fruit. She had somehow been expecting it to vanish as soon as she touched it, but it didn’t. In fact it felt remarkably solid, to be honest it felt annoyingly like an apple. She sniffed it, and realized that it smelled like an apple, and finally —with more than a little trepidation— she bit into it. It tasted like an apple. Not knowing what else to do, Theresa settled for glaring at Citlalli, something that caused the girl to burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny,” huffed Theresa, who was still trying to come to terms with… well, truth be told, she was still trying to come to terms with pretty much everything.
“I know, sorry. It’s just that magic’s a part of me, it’s always been, but I kind of know what you’re feeling. I mean, when my mom first took me to the Land on the Edge of the Wind…”
“Your mom?” Theresa interrupted her.
“Okay, not my mom, my mother,” explained Citlalli, all but rolling her eyes at her.
“But I thought Sylvia…”
“Oops,” said the girl, realizing just a little too late what it was that she had let slip.
“Oops?” repeated Theresa, not liking that one bit, not considering the kind of explanations the girl seemed to be able to just shrug off.
“Well, it’s just that when you first figured out that my ‘father’ wasn’t human I should probably have told you that I don’t really have a father… and by that I don’t just mean that my dad’s not in the picture, I mean that I really don’t have a father at all, that I never did. What I have are two mothers, one human and one magical. Sylvia was the human one, and the magical one’s Nut.”
“It’s a long story, one I really shouldn’t be getting into,” said the fallen star, desperately trying to keep herself from revealing more than she already had.
“That’s nuts!” exclaimed Theresa.
“Yeah, I’m guessing we’re not going to be leaving that particular pun behind any time soon,” sighed Citlalli, praying that her friend’s mother would take the bait and leave it at that. After all, explaining that she was part magical was one thing, but going into the details surrounding the fact that she was a fallen star, or what that actually entailed, would open an entirely different can of worms —one she’d much rather leave firmly closed, and gathering dust on the back of the shelf— this one having to do with how the universe was organized, and with the role the Elders had had to play in the whole blasted thing. In fact she was already going to be in enough trouble with Raghnall over the way in which she had accidentally let slip the little tidbit that her magical father was a magical mother instead.
That was, after all, one of about a gazillion things the old wizard had warned her not to tell her friends’ parents, even if she was convinced that his insistence on keeping everything he could think of a secret made no sense whatsoever. Oh, when it came to some of those things she knew just where it was that the wizard was coming from ‘cause they kind of made sense, but there were others that she was fairly certain were nothing but a byproduct of his paranoia when it came to all things human. Sure, she knew why that paranoia had arisen, and she knew that it was hard to find something that was more human than human beings themselves, so from that perspective his fear kind of made sense, but seriously, sometimes he seemed to be determined to take it to the extreme.
Of course, the fact that she didn’t share Raghnall’s paranoia didn’t mean that she was looking forward to having to explain any of it, it just meant that her concerns stemmed from a different source altogether… though at the same time deep down she realized that, in the long run, trying to keep those things a secret from Amelia’s parents was likely to be an exercise in futility. The way she saw it, given that everyone else already knew what was going on, she figured that they might just as well get it over with, and bring the elder Sandersons fully on board.
Simply put, she was not about to start keeping secrets from Amelia; Alden was the Keeper of the Book, so he knew pretty much everything that was going on already; Eric was not just Amelia’s little brother, but also Alden’s apprentice —not to mention that he was being trained as a huzard by Raghnall himself— and Detective Thomas was trying to help them figure out who the master happened to be, so trying to keep him in the dark would almost certainly have backfired. That meant that at the end of the day Amelia’s parents were the only ones who hadn’t been told the whole story, and that in turn meant that Eric and Amelia were the ones that were stuck lying to them on a daily basis.
In fact Citlalli was fairly certain that Raghnall’s insistence on keeping her friends’ parents in the dark was just an attempt to hold on to the secrets he had deemed so precious for so many centuries for a little bit longer, one that was all but guaranteed to come back to bite them sooner rather than later… though at the same time it was also a rather vivid reminder of the fact that the whole ‘let’s keep this a secret’ game was one Raghnall was a little too fond of playing, and that in turn brought her to something that had been bothering her for a while: the possibility that Amelia’s parents weren’t the only ones who were being kept in the dark about something they had a right to know. Sure, she knew about magic, she knew about a lot of things that Raghnall had told her not to tell her friends’ parents, but at the same time she knew that that didn’t necessarily mean that she had been told everything she needed to know.
No, she didn’t have anything that could actually be described as ‘proof’ in that regard, that was pretty much a given considering that the problem was precisely that she had a nagging feeling that there was something she wasn’t being told, and that if she’d had some sort of proof she wouldn’t have had a nagging feeling that something was being kept from her in the first place, she would simply have known it for a fact, but at the same time she wasn’t entirely sure of just what it was that she was supposed to do about it. Yes, she had to know, but at the same time she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that they weren’t done dealing with the master just yet —nowhere near it— and that in turn meant that, at least for the time being, the present seemed to be determined to remain a pain by insisting that they give it their undivided attention, so she figured that that nagging feeling was just going to have to wait… now if only she could be sure that her waiting wasn’t yet another one of those things that were likely to come back to bite them.