After eating a magic apple, prepared by Missy to get rid of her, Taïga has fallen in a deep, coma like sleep…
Granny sits in her rockingchair, looking at her deeply sleeping grandchild. Her breathing is calm and regular but there seems to be no way to make her regain consciousness. Granny has tried everything – from first aid in the hallway with mouth to mouth and cardio massage, to magic. Nothing…
They even called Vulturu’s old doctor, who had trouble diagnosing anything at first. Finally he settled on the famous tropical African illness brought by the Tsetse fly – sleeping sickness. Even if he emitted some reserves about the probabilities of finding Tsetse flies in Romania, he signed all papers needed to explain Taïga’s absence from school…
Taïga has now “slept” for almost a whole month, and Granny hasn’t left her side except for the meals and doing some research in her and her sister’s spell books. Faithfully she has watched over the pale sleeping child throughout the seasons. Filled with remorse, Missy has tried to be useful, spending time reading up on magic apples. So far the only thing she has come up with is the kiss of true love and a scary dark magic potion.
‘It worked for Snow White!’
‘Missy, just think! Taïga is too young to have someone love her like that. And it implies eating a poisoned apple. Nothing says she did.’
Missy looks thoughtfully at her sister. Better abandon the subject. ‘So why can’t we just let her sleep until she’s suitably aged? The Sleeping Beauty pulled it off just fine and it doesn’t seem to have brought any prejudice to Taïga’s condition so far, has it? It won’t hurt to have some calm and quiet for a couple more-’ she bites her tongue when she sees Granny’s expression. ‘- err… days.’
‘As a matter of fact, there might be another way.’ Granny snaps.
‘Another way? Why didn’t you say so earlier? Might have spared me some time.’
But Granny is scared to use it… She has done some research on the potion Missy mentioned, a dangerous potion which has never been tried on a child before. It could as well cure her grandchild, as it could kill her.
Granny sighs, sipping from the glass of milk that is supposed to calm her and make her if not sleep, at least rest for a few hours. She pats her knee calling Miezul Nopţii, but the cat just finishes licking her paws, before turning around and settling at Taïga’s feet. Granny sighs again. The rocking chair creaks rhythmically, lulling the old woman to sleep.
Shasta and Leonardo are overseas, on tour, when unexpectedly Shasta goes into labor, almost a month early. Leonardo throws a fit! He was supposed to meet with the mayor about becoming an honor citizen of Twinbrook because of his success as a magician and this was definitely not on his schedule…
It’s nearly midnight when the phone rings in Vulturu. Granny hurries into the study to answer before the shrill ringing wakes her sister. She hopes it is Shasta – she’s in the beginning of her eighth month and Granny has seen in the newspaper that her daughter is accompanying Leonardo on his “Dazzling Dazzler” American tour. A suave male voice with an unmistaken Italian accent greets her. She listens, her face lightening up.
‘Congratulations, Leonardo! And how is Shasta? … Good! … Difficult? … Uh-huh… Uh-huh… The principal is that she’ll recover without any significant consequences… Uh-huh. Yes, I understand she’s getting the best care money can pay… Yes… So what’s her name?’
Granny’s smile fades. She must be mistaken? ‘A boy? You said “boy”? As in B-O-Y? Garçon? Ragazzo? Niño? Junge?’ … Oh. My. God…’ Dazed Granny hangs up and sits heavily on a chair.
As expected, Shasta almost lost her life giving birth, but thanks to Leonardo’s connections she was rushed by helicopter to the state’s best hospital, and the rapidity of the intervention saved her life. She was hemorrhaging so badly after a placental abruption, that it took five units of blood, four units of fresh frozen plasma and a whole team operating for more than four hours, to patch her up again.
Granny hides her face in her hands and lets her herself give in to the terror of having almost lost her only child, and then the relief that she had not… She would never survive losing both Shasta and Taïga. She realizes that she did not mention that Taïga was in a coma. Oh, well. Too late now. Better not worry Shasta yet. She will need her strength to recover from the birth…
It takes a while for Granny to compose herself, then she returns to her room and locks the door behind her only to immediately open it again, leaving it ajar so she can hear Taïga.
‘A boy… Well. I suppose the baby is entitled to the Grey ragdoll, boy or not!’
She rummages through the drawer where Missy is keeping her sewing things. She throws the bits and pieces of fabric and a couple of buttons on the floor in a heap, before taking out her wand and breathing in deeply.
‘Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney holl…
Come forward ragdoll!’
She watches the cloth whirl and turn, assembling itself into a little ugly ragdoll slumped on the floor.
‘I wish to make this doll come to life…
I wish to make it breathe and think…
I wish to make it walk and talk and move…
I wish to make it be real, to have a life and soul…
Make my desire come true…
Make it real…
Make it true…
So it be!’
‘Now – Stand up!’
The doll rises to its feet, looking at her with a blank expression.
Granny picks it up and scrutinizes it, pulling on the arms and legs, but also on the eyes. It won’t do if the seams don’t hold…
She puts the doll in one of Missy’s empty shoe boxes and wraps it in brown paper before putting it in the mail box for the postman to pick up. She hopes she has stuck enough stamps on it to safely bring it to its far away destination in Monte Aquila.
Now she’ll just have to wait and see if the baby will play with it enough to trigger the magic.
The mailbox seems innocent enough, but at a closer look you would notice slight sparkling that slowly diminishes as the full moon rises over the mountains…
Granny doesn’t return to sleep. Almost losing her daughter to childbirth, she understands that she can’t continue living in a Status Quo, time slipping away without her doing anything to prevent her granddaughter from falling further and further into darkness. She knows she can’t live with the knowledge that she hasn’t tried everything. Looking at the garden lit up by the full moon, she takes a difficult decision. She will use dark magic for the first time in her whole life…
She’s extremely tired after making the ragdoll, but she’s also filled with a febrile energy. There’s no time to lose. Not anymore. She will wake up her sister, hoping that her bragging about finding the potion and stocking up on the ingredients wasn’t only empty words.
But first she has to protect Taïga. She starts by casting a protection spell around the unconscious girl’s bed to keep her out of harm’s way while she herself makes the potion. Protection spells are her specialty, and this is the most powerful she knows of. Taking advantage of the full moon, she chants the potent words and soon falls into a trance.
Missy wakes up, and yawning she pads over the landing to see what the ruckus is about. She stops and watches her older sister go about the spell. Granny is intimidating in real life, but seeing her like this is downright scary.
Missy swallows. She’d better wait to see what will happen next. She won’t miss out on a full powered black magic spell – especially as it is her snotty sister who is performing.
Casting those kinds of spells are wearing, and after making sure her granddaughter is protected from evil, Granny stumbles half-conscious past her sister and into the bathroom where she throws up from sheer exhaustion. Missy has followed her sister, but she turns on her heels when Granny starts retching into the toilet.
She hold her hands over her ears to keep the agonizing sounds out, but can’t help having spasms of disgust.
‘I can help you, you know,’ she hollers. ‘Not with what you’re doing right now, but with the potion I told you about. Stirring and such. Getting the important ingredients from my secret cupboard, you know.’ She uncovers her ears and peeks into the bathroom. ‘Tara?’
Granny is sitting slumped against the cool porcelain of the toilet. She is deathly pale.
Granny lets Missy steer her down the narrow steps into the basement to Missy’s laboratory. She looks around her taking in the cliché of a witch’s den.
She recognizes their grandmother’s old gramophone in a corner.
‘Does it still work?’
She jumps when Missy closes the heavy wooden door behind them, turning a rusty key. A quick glance at the shelves, and she realizes she might have misjudged her sister.
‘Shall we start? I’ve got everything needed here-’ Missy opens a cupboard and withdraws a shoebox. ‘-Yes, it might seem a little strange, but I never get questioned when I carry a shoebox around, and then why should I transfer everything into another more witchy box at home? I’ve got lots of shoeboxes…’
Granny peeks over her shoulder, taking in the neatly stacked boxes. She wonders how her sister has organized her powders and roots, but refrains from asking.
‘I looked up the potion as soon as you mentioned it, and it should be in my Louboutin box here, somewhere…’
‘Since when do you wear Louboutin’s, Missy?’
‘Huh? Louboutins? Are you crazy? They are way too expensive and impossible to walk in – at least on Vulturu’s streets.’ She shines up, pulling out a black box. ‘But their boxes are great! Could you grab the spell book over there? The black one.’
Granny tries to get in the right mood to make the dangerous potion, but she has difficulty to relax and open up to the dark magic. Missy is excited. She has been tampering with dark magic for a very long time now, but being only a half-witch is restraining her from pushing the limits.
‘Please, please let Taïga survive the cure…’ Granny murmurs, closing her eyes and trying to concentrate. ‘Spell book of my ancestors – open up…’
Nothing happens. Missy’s spell book seems immune to her plea.
‘Maybe you should try to be more convincing, Tara.’
Granny swallows and tries again, ‘Spell book of my ancestors – I command you to open up.’ She adds the old command word to be sure, putting maybe a little too much force into it, ‘SHAZAM!’
A fierce wind blows through the room, and with a rattling sound the pages turn. Trembling she starts reading the fateful words. Darkness seems to envelop her, reaching for her with ice-cold hands.
‘OMG, I can’t do this! Oh no no no…’ She closes her eyes and tries to breathe calmly. The thud of the grimoire closing, followed by a squeak pulls her out of her gloom.
‘But you have to succeed, or Taïga will never wake up again.’ Missy’s whines. Her voice is barely a whisper, yet it seems to echo around the wooden walls.
‘So get a grip on yourself, Tara! Open that darn book and get going. Time is running out…’ Missy insists, making Granny want to just leave the room.
She hates being bossed around by her little sister. But Missy is right. She can’t chicken out now. Saving Taïga is more important than her pride.
‘I can do this…’
‘No. You must do this…’
Granny silences her sister with a look that says it all. Taking a deep breath, she sings the dark words over and over again like a mantra.
Hesitantly at first, then with more and more frenzy, she starts pouring the ingredients into the old kettle as her sister hands them to her one after the other.
She murmurs the secret Latin words of the spell as she mixes the ingredients.
Missy reverently hands her a small package made of leaves.
Granny tut-tuts when she pulls on the thin strings and discovers the precious elven ingredient in pieces.
‘Don’t taste it, there’s only this package left and I can’t trade until the winter equinox for more,’ Missy says, hoping Granny won’t notice that she has tasted a bit. Just a tiny bit…
‘Why would I taste it?’ Granny puts the remnants of the thin brownish cake in a wooden mortar and starts grinding it to dust.
‘I meant waste, not taste. I mean, why would anyone taste something as rare and succulent? Not that I have any knowledge about the taste. I’m just speculating…’ Her sentence trails off.
The cake isn’t that fresh anymore, but Granny doesn’t remark anything as Missy has broken it in pieces to cover up her doings. Well. She just took a tiny little bit anyway…
‘Now, the most important-’ Missy says, reverently holding out a little silver box. ‘-dust from the wings of fairies.’
As if Granny needed to be reminded of the importance of what she is doing. There are only a few ounces to be found in the whole world, and Granny is now holding less than 0,05 oz of it in her hands.
‘How on earth did you find this?’ She had had it hidden in her things since they arrived in Vulturu.
‘Find? It’s what’s left of Mother’s,’ Missy says with a hint of surprise in her voice. Granny looks closer at the box. Faint lines forms a G and T. Glinda Thornton. She looks away, feeling a little guilty about thinking Missy had gone through her personal things.
‘I saw yours was empty so I guess it’s only fair that I’ll give mine up for Taïga.’
‘What?’ Granny swirls round to face her unrepentant sister. ‘You’ve been sneaking through my things?’
‘Well. I don’t think we should use that kind of vocabulary here. I was cleaning – dusting, putting away-’
‘I know what cleaning is, thank you. And you have a cleaning lady-’
‘-who you’ve specifically told never to enter your room.’ Missy looks at her, her hands on her hips. Granny stares back.
‘We’ll talk about this afterwards.’ Granny turns back to the mortar, taking a deep breath to calm down.
‘If you say so…’
Missy watches as her sister with trembling hands opens the lid of the little silver box. They both hold their breath. With utter precaution Granny empties the content onto the lembas in the wooden mortar.
She powders the potion lightly with the finely grinded lembas mixed with the fairy dust and they watch how the color changes from musky brown to electric blue. She wonders if Missy can help her find a new source to harvest, but she won’t give in to asking right now, Missy is getting too confident here.
Missy bends over the bubbling kettle, drawing a deep breath.
She immediately withdraws, her eyes closed and weeping. ‘It stings like Hell!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I suppose it’s normal. It’s black magic after all, so the Hell part is justified,’ Missy adds, wiping her tears. ‘I hope it tastes better than it smells…’
Granny bends over the kettle to verify, immediately taking a step back.
‘Ouch.’ Missy was right. The smoke stings like fire. ‘Err… Maybe we should let it brew-’
‘Yes. Evaporate for a few hours.’
They stand and stare at the bubbling potion for a few seconds.
‘Go and get some breakfast. I’ll stay here,’ Granny finally breaks the silence.
‘Can I bring you something?’ Missy is already on her way out.
‘A cup of tea would be nice.’
Several cups of tea later, Granny taps the precious blue liquid into a bottle which slowly lights up from within.
‘We did it!’ Missy squeaks.
Granny only smiles vanly. There’s only enough potion to fill two bottles. She hopes it is sufficient to cure Taïga.
Corpes sleeping and dreams that are black –
from death-like sleep I command you to come back…
Granny drips the precious liquid, drop by drop into Taïga’s mouth. Murmuring the spell over and over again, she massages some potion into the soft skin of her granddaughter’s forehead and on the eyelids.
She walks from one window to the other, nervously pacing. Waiting for a sign that the potion is working – one way or the other… She finally settles in the old wooden rocking chair, falling into a restless slumber.
While Granny is sleeping in the rocking chair next to Taïga’s bed, Missy sneaks into her room…
She’s surprised by a burning sensation behind her eyelids, she isn’t used to crying. But at the sight of the young girl lying pale and vulnerable under the soft bedspread, years of pent-up tears suddenly burst forward.
‘… and it’s all my fault… I’m so sorry, I never meant to… to… harm you like this. I just wanted to scare Granny to leave with you and that… that horrible dog…’
She doesn’t notice that her sister has woken up.
‘What did you just say?’ Granny’s voice is like ice.
Guiltily Missy spins around. ‘Err… I just wanted to check on her…’
‘Is it true? You did this?’ Granny can feel the anger welling up inside her. They haven’t really talked since the “incident” as she has spent all her time in Taïga’s room and Missy has been careful to avoid her, their only encounters having been over a few shared meals and then when they made the potion.
Missy doesn’t answer, but her guilty look tells Granny all she needs to know.
‘How could you? Now, get out,’ she whispers, making Missy flinch. ‘Haven’t you done enough already? I don’t want you near her. Do you hear?’ Granny hisses.
‘But I just wanted to say I’m sorry!’
‘Tell her you’re sorry? You can’t always go around hurting people and then just apologize!’
‘Well. Not accepting an apology is rude.’
‘Me rude? You almost killed her, Missy. And IF she NEVER wakes up from this deep sleep, I swear to the Goddess you’ll pay for it!’
Missy’s tears turn to rage. ‘Why delay? Let’s do it now! I’ll wait for you on the Sacred Grounds!’
She stomps out of the room, leaving Granny who desperately tries to calm down before administering more potion to the sleeping child. She falls on her knees, and crying she prays the Goddess for help. Help to bring Taïga back. Help to wake the child. Help to give her enough strength to carry on…
A raspy whisper pulls Granny out of her thoughts. ‘Waaa…ter…’
‘Thank God!’ Granny stands up so fast she almost falls backwards. Her hands are trembling so badly she almost lets the precious bottle slide out of her hands when she helps Taïga drink a spoonful more potion. The girl chokes, sending almost all of it running down her chin and over her cheek, but Granny quickly scoops it up with the spoon, deftly forcing it back through Taïga’s slack jaws.
‘I’m sorry, dear child. It doesn’t taste very good, but it will heal you…’ I hope… ‘You mustn’t drink water just yet,’ she whispers, but Taïga is sleeping.
She puts the bottle back onto the bedside table and kisses Taïga’s forehead. She had never though an access of fever would be welcome, but she almost cries with relief at the touch of her hot skin. Finally. Taïga’s body is responding to the cure, the access of slight fever speeding up the process of chasing the poison out of her system.
She looks worriedly at her granddaughter. She probably won’t wake up again for hours, and she is under the ward of her protection spell so she’ll be all right for the time it takes to get to the Sacred Grounds to teach her sister a lesson. If she remembers right, that’s behind the cemetery…
‘Rest now, my child, I’ll be right back…’
She closes the door behind her, leaning against it for a second, a grim smile curling the corners of her mouth. It’s time to confront her sister.
The old churchyard is deserted at this late hour. Old Missy is pacing, wringing her hands in despair, glancing towards the entrance every other second. When she sees Granny’s forbidding figure approaching, she’s seized by fright.
‘How is she? Is she…?’ She can’t bear to say the dreadful word.
Granny just stands there, scrutinizing Missy’s face, trying to judge her emotions. ‘She’ll make it. She woke up and the fever has set in.’
A huge sigh of relief escapes Missy. ‘So you see? Everything is going to be alright!’ she gushes, the words tumbling out of her mouth.
‘Oh, no. You won’t get away with this so easy.’ Granny waves her finger in front of her sister’s face. ‘You wanted a duel, and you’ll get one.’
They don’t notice the shadow who has sneaked up on them and is now hiding in the bushes.
‘Do you really find it necessary? I mean, now that Taïga is recovering, can’t we just go home? I’ll make us a nice cup of blackberry tea.’
Granny doesn’t answer, but her hands are clutched so hard her knuckles are white. ‘Are you serious? Choose your position, sister,’ she hisses.
The figure in the bushes strains to hear what the old ladies are arguing about, but they are too far to be overheard.
‘Uh-oh…’ He squints, trying to see what they are doing. He draws his breath when both old ladies fumble for something in their pockets. Oh. My. God, he’s about to witness a shoot-out! The instant after he draws a relieved breath, chuckling to himself as he realizes the old fools are only going to throw sticks at each other.
But he’s thunderstruck when the sticks suddenly burst alive, spewing flames and stars and other magical substances.
‘Oh. My. God!!!’
‘This cannot be real!’ He winces when he pinches his arm.
Seeing the two witches dueling is too much for the shadow to take in. His eyes roll backwards and he faints…
‘That’s cheating, Missy! You’re not supposed to aim the eyes!’ Granny rubs her burning eyelids.
‘Oups! I’m sorry. You know perfectly well why I never made the High School basketball team,’ Missy whines.
They look at each other.
‘”Oups”, huh? Hmpf… You’ll never change, Missy.’
‘Err…’ Missy shrugs, and looks at her feet, biting back the “you too”.
Granny shakes her head. ‘Let’s go home, check on Taïga and get ourselves that cup of tea, shall we?’
Missy nods enthusiastically. Gosh. She got off the hook easily this time.
‘And I want you to tell me exactly what you put in that porridge-’
Uh-oh. Not that easily. ‘Nothing! I swear!’ Missy taps her heart with her right hand, sending off a blast of sparkles right into her own eyes…
Back at home Taïga stirs and wakes up. ‘That was a strange dream… I’m so thirsty…’
Sweating, she pushes at the blankets with her feet, reveling in the cool air enveloping her. She lies a moment watching the shadows dance on the ceiling trying to ignore the terrible headache caused by dehydration. A crash followed by whining makes her sit up and swing her legs over the edge of the bed. Tramps is clawing with his paw at something under the bedside table.
She’s still weak and her legs give way, making her stumble and grip the bedside table for support. She slides down onto the floor, avoiding the broken glass and spilled milk.
‘Naughty boy, Tramp,’ she whispers. There’s an ornate bottle in the corner under the table, fumes rising from the liquid seeping into the carpet. Missy’s cat is pushing at it with her paw. Taïga focuses on the bottle, having difficulty grabbing it.
‘Oh…’ The liquid is slippery and the precious bottle slips from Taïga’s trembling fingers and breaks, spilling potion all around her.
A beautiful light envelops her and she feels warm and lightheaded. She’s not even thirsty anymore. She closes her eyes, giving in to the prickling sensation in her limbs, and the world starts spinning.
The brief feeling of bliss gives way to a terrible nausea and she hardly makes it to the bathroom in time. She stays for a moment, resting her head against the cool porcelain. She wants to lay down, not sure she can make it back to her room again.
The Grey sisters find Taïga as they left her – deeply asleep in her bed. With a frown, Granny replaces the broken bottle at the bedside table.
‘I hope she didn’t drink it, it’s too dangerous.’
‘If I am to judge the stains on the floor, I think most of it went into the floorboards,’ Missy points out. ‘And the carpet.’
Granny nods. ‘I hope you’re right. You know that it’s a lethal potion, the dosage is primordial…’
‘Well. She would be dead now, and it’s not the case, so why worry over spilled milk?’ She grins at Granny who looks blankly back.
‘Did you get the pun? Spilled milk? Oh, forget it. It was probably the wretched dog anyway, Taïga probably didn’t even touch it.’
Granny hopes that Missy is right, but she also knows that even though Taïga has regained consciousness, she’s far from fully recovered.
The following days they take turns watching over the soundly sleeping girl. Granny has not forgiven her sister, giving her a hard time but Missy seems to truly regret her gesture.
Grilling her sister, she finally succeeds in putting two and two together and get some insight in what happened to her granddaughter. It would have helped if she had known about the apple from the beginning. She reproaches herself for not listening more attentively to Missy – she should have suspected that something was amiss when her sister insisted so much…
Taïga is only a child, the effects of magic are more important on such a frail body and even though Missy had not really tried to kill the poor child, Granny still resents her impulsive sister. Porridge. Since when does porridge cure magic poisoning? Missy said it was better if Taïga was not on an empty stomach, but judging from the rests of porridge in the bushes under the dining room window, she didn’t eat enough. Missy spends the days sitting in the rocking chair with her book on her knees, staring thoughtfully into space with unseeing eyes. Granny wonders what she’s thinking about. Probably how she can get the key to her “laboratory” back…
When she’s not sleeping, that is…
Part I – End of Chapter 23