The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 16 (or, “The Summoners”)
Hilary Scarfone had once been one of many summoners. Now, she remained alone — not only in Fiorazzurro, but in Italy and very possibly the entirety of Europe.
Magical creatures were regular creatures who had mutated over long periods of time by magic. Summoners were humans with ties to these creatures, able to befriend them and utilize them however they needed. Summoners, however, never enslaved the creatures they made friends with. They were friends, bonded together by a single purpose.
Stories of animals such as unicorns, pegasi, dragons, and the like were now just faerie tales, old wives stories that had been abandoned and outlawed by the new queen. It hadn’t been hard for her to do such ilk. Being a summoner was the most taxing form of magic a human person could try to conquer. Even faeries found it difficult to sustain a bond with a magical animal, let alone summon them and use their strengths at a moment’s notice.
But Hilary Scarfone wasn’t a normal human. She was a fighter.
Her normal day to day life consisted of taking the underground train to her position as an editor of the Fiorazian newspaper, dictating information as it needed to be shuffled and making sure everybody did as they were told, coming home, buying takeout, and falling asleep. There had been very little variance within years and years. Hilary did not have any family on Fiorazzurro, and what little family she did have left had been contained to the mainland for years.
She had escaped to Fiorazzurro, intent on following her dream of becoming a summoner. Back in those days, years and years ago, the island had still been owned by faeries. Hilary had needed to apply for a special permit to reside on Fiorazzurro, only valid as long as she had continued her magical activity. Oh, how things had changed so much.
She had worked her way up through the various rankings of animals until she had finally passed her levels, enabling her to work with her very own dragon. The day she received her dragon egg was the happiest day of her life. No more would she be alone. Dragons lived longer than humans, though shorter than faeries — but Hilary was secure in her knowledge that her dragon would always be by her side, able to assist her with anything. And she had been right. She thought long and hard about a name for her dragon and settled on Kaminari, an East Asian name for an East Asian dragon. Kaminari had hatched a week early, and from that moment on, Hilary and Kaminari had been inseparable.
Until Cendrillon had risen to power. Until they had captured Kaminari and thrown the black dragon into a prison cell. Unable to kill the dragon, as doing so would break multiple international laws, they had enslaved her in the bottom of the castle, an area Hilary was no longer allowed access to. They blackmailed her into signing the contract, stating they would hurt Kaminari if she didn’t.
And now, she was living a shell of a life, wishing and hoping for the day when she and Kaminari could be free of this. But time was running out. Her hair was starting to grey, and she wasn’t as young as she once was. Rebellions and revolutions were for the young. The future belonged to them now.
“What kind of stories do we have today, Mathers?” she asked her head editor as she walked in that Fiveday. She set her coffee on her desk, looking out at the news reporters who were still in the office. Five huge cameras sat on the back desk, waiting to be taken out and used. (The process had been expedited while magic was still legal, Hilary had been told, but now that it was outlawed pictures had to be taken the old fashioned way.)
“Nothing yet of note to report,” Mathers said from his desk, where he was handwriting the rest of his column that he put in the paper every Fiveday. “You should check in on the printing room. We’ve got a new girl working in there, and she looked lost.”
Oh, great. Just what Hilary needed. More incompetent workers. “I’ll be back,” she said, walking through the door, rolling up her trouser legs as she went. Most ladies wore long skirts with netting and frills, but Hilary Scarfone was not most ladies.
The printing press room was three stories high, with the huge press taking up most of the room. Immigrant workers from the mainland scattered to and fro, taking letter stamps and placing them on the press in the way Mathers had wanted them arranged. Hilary could pick out the new girl easy, because she was standing in the middle of the floor, looking around wide-eyed with her green eyes as if she had never seen a printing press before. She probably hadn’t. She would have to learn how, and today, else she be kicked back out onto the street. Hilary didn’t have time for jokesters.
“Excuse me,” she said, strutting right up to the girl. “You must be the new person.”
The girl turned back to Hilary, and her green eyes told her something strange was amiss. “You must be Hilary Scarfone. I’ve heard a lot about you. You like to grow white roses on your days off, do you?”
Who had told this girl about Kaminari? Hilary had had the Fiorazian records wiped when she had signed the contract, as a way for her to permanently move on from her past life. “Who do you think you are?”
“Somebody with more power than you.” And with that, with no notification, the printing press stopped cold.
Each one of the individual machines ceased activity. Normally they wound down after a long day, but there was no winding down process, no slowing of the gears. It was a one-shot stop to the heart of the operation, as if a train had jumped the tracks and had slammed into a wall. Every single machine out of five had stopped, leaving a group of confused workers…and a furious Hilary.
“What did you do with our machines,” she asked the girl. “What. Did. You. Do. With. Our. Machines.”
“Nothing.” Milaya looked around the press. “This must be Sarah’s doing again. Check the last printed paper. That might hold a clue.”
Hilary had no idea what this strange blonde-haired girl was speaking of, or why she was even here. “You fix my printing press right now, or I will phone the police and I will press charges.”
“Don’t get your pants in a bunch.” Milaya reached for the paper, but Hilary swatted her hand away.
“You don’t know how to pull this out. Away, woman.” Hilary didn’t like confronting this girl about her gender, but she was losing her temper quickly. She lifted up the ream holder and pulled out the huge sheet of paper that was supposed to hold today’s headlines. And supposed it was — but instead of talking about yesterday’s mysterious shutdown of the E line and the strange disappearance of Adam Gutschmidt, chief officer of Fiorazian Power and Light, and his son — there were small little apples printed where all of the letters should have been. The printed pictures showed only apples as well.
“What is this?” she asked as Milaya asked, “Oh, why must everything here be in black and white?”
She kicked the machine, and all five of them started up again. Hilary watched in shock, her eyes trailing back to the newspaper that had all apples on it. “What kind of magic is this?”
“It’s not magic.” The girl’s face turned serious. “My name is Milaya. I’m part of a group that’s calling ourselves the Survival Strategists, who have set up a base in Strada Pianure Bianche. We are researching the whereabout of every magic user within the island and tracking them down to assist us with a project.”
“Are you with the government? Show me your identification.”
Milaya whipped out a small black device and tapped the side of it twice. A small card slid out, something like a Fiorazian ID card. Milaya handed it to Hilary, who inspected it. The grooves looked like a normal card, and Milaya’s picture was even printed on it. The top read, “IMMIGRATION: EAST ASIA.”
“East Asia? You don’t look oriental.”
“Moscow,” Milaya said. “Be grateful my friends back home didn’t hear you say that. You’ve got a nasty streak a mile wide, Ms. Scarfone. I’ve heard about you, and I knew it would be hard for me to get you to join our faction. You’re the only summoner we’ve tracked down. What if we told you we could get your dragon back?”
At the mention of the word ‘dragon,’ Hilary’s heart leapt just a bit. “I would say you are crazy, and that you are a witch and a traitor. All traces of my past were wiped away when Queen Cendrillon came to power. I do not know how you found me, and I would prefer it that you —“
Too late. With no warning, Hilary and Milaya were now standing in the middle of the street. The news building — and with it, the printing press and all of the workers — were gone. Nobody else seemed to notice as Hilary and Milaya stood in the empty lot.
“Oh, it’s happening with regularity now,” Milaya said as she tapped the side of her black device again.
Hilary gaped. “Wha — the office — I — “
“Let me be frank about this. This reality is disappearing. And if you don’t help us, within another week this entire world is going to vanish. Only you, your dragon, and all of the magic users together stand a chance. Will you come with me?”
Hilary couldn’t deny that the office was gone. She looked at Milaya. “If you can get me my dragon back the same way you made my office disappear…then I might just believe you.”
Milaya grinned. “Nothing is too small or too big, considering the time limit we’ve got. No time to lose.”