The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 13 (or, “The Spellcasters”)
Rana Youngblood had been studying the art of magic wand making for years and years. His father had been a wand maker, and his grandfather had been a wand maker, all the way back six generations to the start of magic in their family. It was something that he had hoped to pass down another generation someday — if not as a profession, then as a hobby — but at the moment it was not working in his favor. The government had simply made magic as anything more than a whisper more trouble than it was worth.
He roused himself when he heard Gumi start crying again. The two year old was up all night again with a stomachache, and he wondered how Luka ever got any sleep. They didn’t technically share rooms, but the walls were paper thin and anybody could hear straight through if need be. Except that Rana, normally, didn’t want to regardless of the circumstances.
He rubbed his eyes and threw on a black tunic, slipping on his tan work pants before leaving the room, parting the curtain to the side. Rana and Luka’s apartment was a small affair, with no actual doors separating any of the rooms but curtains and cloth that Luka had made over the years decorating everything. And by everything, Rana knew that there were gingham checks covering the windows and spare bolts of fabric stuffed behind the couch. There was always something related to fabric going on in this apartment.
The main room was still a mess from the other day. He had tried to deliver Calimero’s potions back to him, but the boy hadn’t been at the lab, and he had needed to cart the potions all the way back across town to the apartment. The kitchen to the left had all of those same potions stacked in boxes on the floor, right next to the pans that needed cleaning and the dish towels Luka had sewed as a project in school. And the right — well, there was Luka sitting with Gumi, trying to get him to sleep for the eighth night in a row.
“Good morning, Rana. Happy Twoday,” Luka said with a sad smile. She gave Rana a sleepy yawn. "I know, I know. Long night and all that. We were up practicing our ABCs. I think Gumi's almost got them all down." She patted Gumi on the head as he slept, running a hand through his long, curly blonde locks. "Are you going to give those potions back to Calimero today?"
"I'm going to try. I should have called first, but he never gave me his phone number." Rana tucked his collared shirt into his pleated pants, buckling the belt tight. "Busy Twoday ahead of you?"
"I need to drop Gumi off at his school. I work all day today, remember?"
Rana nodded. Luka's shifts at the supermarket were grueling and long, but at least the coworkers were friendly and understood her family needs at home. Any other place in town would have fired her -- and they had before. "I'll be back later, so if you need me to pick him up, let me know."
"I will. Right now I need food. Can you whip up a breakfast?"
Rana grinned. "I can do that." He fished into his pocket until he found the small, six-inch horsehair bow he kept hidden back there. It was a basic bow, which couldn't perform elaborate spells but was good for around the house work and simple tasks. He flicked it once, then twice with his hand.
Contrary to popular belief, a wand didn't actually require you to say the spell in order to cast it. You did have to know all of the words, though. Old wives tales had always said that spells just required a flick of a wrist and a magic word, which was true -- in its simplest forms. Most of the languages used were old, and Rana still preferred to cast his spells in Latin instead of in faerie, as most people did these days. The words were long and elaborate, something that he had needed to practice for hours as a kid to get just right. But something important was worth doing right, and anything worth doing right was worth practicing. Rana had learned that many years ago.
He whispered the words this morning to give them more leverage, and soon, the plates were floating in midair, cleaning themselves and setting themselves on the table. He opened the ice box and pulled out a small box that held eggs. Cracking them open, he put two on the skillet that had assembled itself over the fire that hadn't started yet. Then, with another flick and two more words, he started the fire, one of the first spells he had ever learned.
Even if you knew all the Latin or faerie in the world, it didn't make you a spellcaster. In fact, the ability to become a spellcaster didn't come from the magic wand at all, but it came from something in a person's blood. Some people had it, and some people didn't. In fact, only a few did, so in the old days when a new spellcaster was found, there were usually celebrations that lasted for days. Lavish parties would be started, and everybody would be invited.
Rana remembered it well, how the tests at school had singled him out as the most likely to become a magic user, how he had unwillingly cast his first spell as the final test, how everybody had loved on him and the cake had had his name on it written in icing. It was a far cry from these days when magic users were much on the fringe. In fact, he himself had to keep convincing Cendrillon's government that he was no longer a magic user. They had him on record since he had been registered during school as a spellcaster in training; he had taken an oath that required him to no longer perform magic or sell wands. He only broke that oath when he sold wands at Luka's booth, unable to further his art lest he be found out and taken to prison. And there were most important things at the moment -- namely, Gumi and his well-being.
He flicked the wand one more time, and the eggs turned over on their own, landing on the skillet again. Rana hadn't always lived with his sister and her child, but after she had been kicked out of her ex-husband's home (he cheated, not her) she had nowhere else to go. She had grown up wanting to solely be a homemaker and nothing else, dedicating her studies on the best way to raise a child. Her favorite part of her schooling had been in the home economic arts; she had her own kind of 'magic,' despite not being a magic at all, in creating uses for cloth. Each pattern was intricately sewn together, and Rana could see that the beautiful designs would surely gather interest at the Traders Market. Him selling wands in the back of the booth had been a secondary thing, a way to bring in additional money from those who knew the code word.
The eggs floated over to the plates, and Rana flicked the wand one more time to put the fire out. "Breakfast is served."
They sat together and ate, Luka feeding the eggs to Gumi with the utmost of care. Then, Luka left with Gumi in tow, taking him to the daycare set up across the hallway before taking the F train to her job. Rana was free for the rest of the day -- he hadn't been able to find an actual paying job because, whenever employers did a background check, they found out he was a magic user and never called back. Instead of being bitter about it, he focused on his art and making more wands to sell -- or, in today's case, returning those blasted potions to Calimero.
He still didn't know exactly why he had left his booth in such a hurry on Tenday, but it had better have been for a good reason. At least Rana had made some decent money from it. Calimero had said he could take the profits from whatever he sold, and Rana was a good seller. There was still a lot of stock left, but Rana had made enough to cover for anything he would have lost selling wands and more.
He packed up the boxes and put them back into the wooden cart he had used to transport them to and from the Market. Scratch that -- it was actually Calimero's cart, but he hadn't come back for it yet. Rana was going to give Calimero an earful when he finally met up with him, after trying to return the cart yesterday, taking the F to the D and getting off at Strada Pianure Bianche only to find that the door was closed and Calimero hadn't been home. He should have just left the potions there -- except they were magic potions, and you can't just leave magic potions out on the street for the police to find.
He exited the apartment with the box on wheels in tow, going down three sets of stairs until he reached the ground level. The neighborhood of Prato Verde was on the northwest side of Fiorazzurro, with mostly older buildings and tenement houses. He pushed the cart all the way past the local stores, past the homeless men sitting on the courthouse steps, and then through to the underground trains. He hoped that his pass would let him in -- he hadn't paid for a new underground train pass just yet. Thankfully, it wasn't scheduled to expire for another couple of days, and it let him through.
It was a long trip to the D train, and he got off and continued to push the cart through. The D train he got on decided it was going express until he reached the correct stop. Rana didn't know why, but he figured he'd better not ask any questions. He hadn't even properly started this day, and he already wanted it over with.
He began to put together some ideas in his head, thinking of new materials he needed to gather for his magic wands. Each wand was created hollow, with a substance in the middle that worked as a magic conductor. That way, when the wand was pointed at something and the correct phrase was uttered, the spell would take root. It was second nature to Rana at this point, but something that he strived to get better at. If only 'getting better' wasn't so hard.
He walked across Strada Pianure Bianche and to Calimero's laboratory. Thankfully, he answered when Rana knocked. "Thank goodness! I'm glad you're here. Come on in, but watch your step."
Calimero took the box of potions from Rana, easily lifting it up and carrying it to the right half of the studio apartment. Rana stepped in, looking down and seeing there were cords on the floor. "What are those for?"
"I can't heat up the potions if I'm not connected to the electricity. Sometimes I can make my own, but I have no talent for spells."
"Oh. How do you sleep, then? You must work all night."
"I was actually wondering the same thing." A different voice piped up from across the apartment; Rana looked to see a blonde girl with shoulder-length hair sitting in Calimero's living room, beside the dead television. She had on a plain green peasant dress and had a bound book in her hands. When Rana looked closer, he could see she had an ink pen and was writing in it.
"I didn't know you had a girlfriend, Calimero," he noted.
At the mention of the word girlfriend, Calimero and Milaya both jumped nearly a kilometer into the air. Calimero almost dropped his box of potions. "We're not --"
"We don't have time for such shenanigans," the girl said as she got up from where she was seated. "I don't believe we've met. My name is Milaya. I have a proposition for you, Rana Youngblood."
Rana felt a pit open up in his stomach. "A...proposition?"
"Milaya, please. Don't scare him." Calimero sat the box down onto the counter and joined the other two in the living room. "It's not so much a proposition as it is a question. Milaya's not from around here, as you can kind of tell."
Rana had been able to tell quite easily; the girl's fashions hadn't exactly exuberated Fiorazian chic. "She speaks fine, though. Maybe a little pushy, but fine."
"I'm pushy because I have a mission and a deadline." Milaya crossed her arms. "I refuse to not be taken seriously."
Calimero blushed. This wasn't how he had pictured this going at all. "Listen, what Milaya means is --"
Then, without warning, the television sputtered to life. The single black and white image, fuzzy in its projection, showed an apple rotating on its axis. Calimero snapped to attention. "It's not past time for electricity," he said.
Milaya looked at the image for a completely different reason. "Is that apple showing up as red or green?"
"Neither. It's grey."
"No, I mean, do you think that it's -- " Milaya bit her lip to prevent herself from sighing. Sometimes people were so dense.
The television program began to talk, a long, low voice that gave the projection that its owner knew precisely what he spoke of. "Ladies and Gentlemen of Fiorazzurro, welcome to the days of Dvorak. The end is coming near. You must rally against the magic users of this world and bring them to an end. Failure to do so will result in your arrest. I repeat: the day of Dvorak is here. Rally against the magic users --"
The television sputtered to a halt as quickly as it had started up. In its cracked screen was one of Calimero's size A beakers. Calimero turned to Milaya. "Why -- that was Master Rossini's television!"
"And now it's not going to say anything." Milaya couldn't believe what she had heard. "We have no time. Rana, you heard what the television said. It's true that something's going to happen, but the plan is to gather all of the magic users in the city and on the island to rally against the Queen. We have less than two weeks to do it...although I don't know how long weeks are for you." She counted. "Eleven days. That's how long we have."
"Eleven days? I thought we had longer than that."
Rana reached instinctively for the simple wand he had in his back pocket. He took it out and pointed it at the television, reciting a simple spell. Within a minute, the screen was back together, healed as if nothing had ever happened to it. In an instant, it clicked on again, but this time, there was no image on the screen, just a white powered-up screen that said WAITING FOR SIGNAL.
It remained like this for five seconds, and then the loudest music Calimero had ever heard -- if you could call it music -- blasted out through the speakers.
He put his hands up over his ears to try and blur it out. What was this? He could tell there was some sort of melody, but it was being constantly drowned out by some loud static sound, like if the television had bad reception and it was turned up on high, or if one of the songstrumers had misaligned their equipment and it was feeding back on them. "What is this?"
Milaya didn't have her hands over her ears at all. With no warning, she began to dance in the middle of the room, legs outstretched, arms over her head. Calimero and Rana stood rooted to the floor as Milaya moved. She had to know this music -- but how? There was a beat and a melody and lots of noise. How could she even dance to this?
She stopped two minutes in. "I know this song," she told Calimero and Rana. "One of my friends plays this music all the time. I know they're coming to help. I just don't know when. This song proves it."
"Doesn't it, Milaya?" another voice said, coming out of the television. This one sounded the same as the voice before, in fluent Italian. "Start those survival strategies. We'll be right back with your regularly scheduled programs." Then, the television shut off.
Rana's shoulders dropped. "What was that all about? Is this your magic, Milaya?"
Milaya nodded. "I have the power to see into the future. It's not as far away as you think it is. Our world is in danger, Rana. I'm organizing everybody, along with our friend Daisy, so that we can figure out a plan. Calimero is working on it as well. Are you in?"
Rana thought back to the strange voice on the television. There was something going on here that he didn't like, and he wasn't sure if he could trust this new girl. Then, eh thought of Luka and Gumi, how if there really was trouble coming, they would be in trouble as well. "I have my reservations," he said, "but if the world is really going to be in trouble, then I guess I have an obligation to help. I don't know of anybody else that does magic in my immediate area. The Queen has scared most of them out. It's just you and me that I know of, Calimero."
"We'll find more," Milaya noted. "I promise."
Rana almost objected to this as well until he realized what Milaya was talking about. If Milaya could actually find more spellcasters on Fiorazzurro, that meant he wouldn't be alone anymore. He could have somebody to talk to about his art other than people who came by and bought his wands. And people bought his wands -- but some thought they were ancient replicas, or were from out of town and took them back to the European mainland. He had heard of a few spellcasters residing on the Southeast side, but he had never made actual contact with them.
If he made contact, that would mean business. "Sign me up."