Taïga is surprised that nobody comes to meet her at Twallan International in Falls Harbor. Her cell is out of battery so she waits for a while before finally deciding to take a cab. The sun is setting just as she arrives at Bayou Oaks, making a perfect setting for the Christmas lighted old mansion that looks warm and welcoming… Valkyria comes running, scaring the cabdriver off, but her menacing growl changes into a happy whimpering as she recognizes her mistress.
Taïga hugs her dog. ‘I’ve missed you sooo much! C’mon, let’s see what Granny is doing…’
‘Taïga!?!’ Rowan howls, hurtling himself into Taïga’s arms. ‘Granny! Missy! Taïga’s home from prison!’
Taïga laughs. ‘C’mon, Rowan. It’s not a prison!’
Granny throws her apron on the counter and hurries out from the kitchen at the same time as Missy comes running downstairs, dripping water all over…
‘Taïga? Dear child!’ Granny hugs her hard. ‘Let me look at you.’ She scrutinizes Taïga and hugs her again. ‘Weren’t you supposed to come tomorrow?’
Missy clears her throat behind them. ‘Oups! I guess I forgot to tell you about the mail…’ Missy scratches her head. ‘I’m sorry!’
Taïga laughs. Missy hasn’t changed a bit. ‘It doesn’t matter, Missy. I took a cab at the airport.’ She bends towards Rowan and whispers. ‘How’s Peaches doing?’
‘Do I really have to go to Monte Vista now that Taïga is here? Why can’t I stay during the holidays with you all?’
‘Because your father wants to see you. It’s been over a year since you last went home after all…’
‘It’s late, weren’t you on your way to bed when Taïga came home? You’ll catch up tomorrow.’
Sulking, Rowan starts upstairs.
When Taïga comes into the room she shares with her half-brother, he’s faking sleep.
‘Stop sulking, Rowan! Here! Take this!’ Taïga throws her pillow at Rowan, who laughing jumps up on her bed and counterattacks.
Valkyria joins in the fun, excitedly barking.
‘No! Rowan wait!’ Taïga is out of breath. ‘Enough, Valkyria.’ Taïga shows the door with her hand. ‘Out!’ Valkyria stops barking and jumps down from the bed.
With Valkyria out and away, Peaches jumps onto the bed to help Rowan.
‘It’s not fair!’ Taïga protests. ‘Two against one!’
The door opens on Granny and Missy armed with pillows, and soon feathers are flying all over the room…
Exhausted by the journey and the pillow fight, Taïga immediately falls asleep..
‘I waited for you… Why didn’t you come?… Why?’ Her mother’s voice reaches her through her dreams.
‘Mom…’ Taïga murmurs. She tosses and turns, but doesn’t wake up.
In her dream she can see her mother using the palantìr. Everything is grey, the palantìr itself seems dull. Shasta says something, and slowly a half-moon is drawn from the dull sphere. ‘Follow the wolf… You must follow the wolf…’
Taïga’s eyes pops open. ‘Mom?’ she sits up and looks around. ‘Mom?’ The room is empty, but her mother’s perfume is still lingering. She scrambles out of of bed and hurries downstairs to find Granny.
Granny is cooking for Christmas and doesn’t look up when Taïga walks into the kitchen.
‘There’s French bread for breakfast, and you favorite – blueberry jam!’
‘Thanks.’ She grabs a warm bread roll from a plate and looks around the kitchen to find an empty space to settle down. ‘Where’re the others?’
‘Missy is in town with Rowan. I guess they’re trying to find a last minute present for his dad…’
‘Good.’ She takes a bite of the bread roll. ‘Mom was here tonight.’
Taïga drops the bomb and the effect is immediate. Granny lets go of a plate of gingerbread, and gapes at Taïga. ‘Who?’
‘Mom. I was sleeping, but I’m pretty sure she was here.’ Taïga gets on her knees and helps Granny clean up the mess on the floor.
‘Was it a dream then? Tell me…’
Taïga spends the whole day with Granny in the kitchen and finally everything is ready.
‘Shall I bring the cake?’
‘Not yet Missy.’
‘But when? I think the cake would look great over there, in the corner.’
‘Was that a car?’ Taïga listens. ‘I think Leonardo’s here!’
Oh my!’Granny looks panicked around. ‘And I haven’t even changed yet!’
‘Drama, drama. Here’s your wand.’
Granny just has the time to magically change clothes before the door opens on her son in law. He strides smiling into the hall and gestures to the cab driver to follow him in with an enormous basket with fresh fruit.
‘Merry Christmas, ladies.’
‘You didn’t bring Frost?’ Granny enquires.
‘No. He’s with his nanny in Monte Vista.’ Leonardo lies. ‘Ah, Rowan! How you’ve grown! Come here, I’ve got something for you.’
‘Grazie, Papa.’ Rowan takes the flat gift and eagerly rips it open. ‘An iPad! Grazie! Can you show me how it works, Taïga?’
Leonardo looks her up and down with a little smile. ‘You are becoming quite a beauty, cara mia. You’ll soon surpass your mother.’ Gallantly he bends over her hand, touching it lightly with his lips, making Taïga feel uneasy.
Taïga doesn’t talk much during dinner. She keeps glancing at Rowan, nodding and sighing. Apparently the others can’t see their guest who’s seated at the empty plate. The place reserved for the cherished one’s that are dead…
‘Please, Rowan. Put away your iPad.’
‘Just a sec’, Granny. I’ll just have to…’
Leonardo stares sternly at his son. ‘You can play after dinner. Now put that away.’
‘Yes, father.’ Rowan obediently turns off his new toy, and literally wolfs down his food before asking for permission to leave the table as soon as he reasonably can. ‘Goodnight!’ He leaves the adults at table, happily running upstairs with Peaches in tow…
Taïga quickly tells Granny about their visitor as soon as Missy and Leonardo leave the table to go and get another bottle of wine in the kitchen. ‘Mom’s here! And she says not to tell Leonardo!’
‘Shasta? Here? A ghost!?!’
Taïga looks over her shoulder. ‘Shhhht. They’re coming back.’
Granny is flabbergasted. But that must mean that she is… dead!?! Taïga can see her grandmother grow pale, but luckily she knows better than to ask any questions.
They finish dining, the conversation a little stilted. Granny asks questions about her grandson, Frost, and Leonardo shows them pictures. After dinner, Leonardo gives them ‘Just a little something I brought for Christmas’. Taïga gets a new Kashmir sweater, Granny a chocolate fountain and Missy gets an upgraded Banshee Banisher! Leonardo seems to appreciate his Hermes gloves and matching scarf…
‘Rowan! Dobbiamo lasciare!’
Leonardo is tired, and longs to get back to his hotel. Granny and Missy have kindly offered him to stay overnight, but he declined, preferring the comfort of Hotel Bellevue. But where’s Rowan?
‘We have to leave for Italy tomorrow morning. Make up your mind, because I’m going back to my hotel now!’
Rowan doesn’t say anything. There’s no way he can leave before asking Taïga to help him with his secret project!
They stare at each other and it’s Leonardo who breaks the silence. ‘Va bene. Stay then. I will fetch you for the summer holidays and after that you’re going to boarding school in Egypt… Capisce’
‘Do I have to?’ Rowan mutters.
‘Si. Arrivederci, figlio mio. Be a good boy.’ They hug, then Leonardo turns his back on his son and leaves.
Granny and Taïga are upstairs in the study. Granny wants to check Taïga’s saying about Shasta’s ghost at table as soon as possible. But this Christmas Eve, the palantìr seems to weigh a ton… Its color shifts from translucent to a light grey… but nothing happens. Granny can’t hold it anymore and has to let go of it.
To her surprise it doesn’t settle.
‘By the Goddess! It doesn’t obey me! It won’t let me see anything!’ Granny is devastated.
Taïga reaches out and slowly the Palantìr sinks down… Granny can’t believe her eyes.
What was that? ‘Ahem… Can you do that again?’
‘I don’t know…’ Taïga squirms on her chair. I can’t tell Granny I’ve already used the palantìr, with Rowan…*
Taïga approaches her hands and without hesitation the palantìr lifts.
Taïga concentrates and suddenly it lights up from within.
To Granny’s astonishment it doesn’t swirl, but its power seems to concentrate towards Taïga, while the side that faces Granny stays deceptively empty…
Taïga’s hands feels numb and a tickling sensation is spreading up her arms, like thousands of ants swarming over her chest and when it finally reaches her head she fills with a light so bright it hurts. Then she can hear it; a whisper, caressing her soul, echoing inside her, cajoling: ‘Av-‘osto, Hiril vuin, Av-‘osto … Leithio nin…’*
*Don’t be afraid, my lady, don’t be afraid… Release me…
Granny watches her granddaughter sway with her hands glued to the palantir, seeing the light seep out of it and into Taïga’s glowing hands. It can’t be?… Oh, no. I must stop this! Now!
Startled, Taïga snaps open her eyes and lets go of the palantìr.
‘I was going to ask you the same thing, dear child. You scared me for a while!’
Taïga blinks and shakes her head. ‘I can’t remember… There was a voice. A whispering voice that made me feel good…’
Granny searches her face. ‘What did it say?’
Taïga frowns. ‘I can’t remember… It was a strange language, but pleasant to listen to…’
‘Try to recall, Taïga. It’s important.’
‘Hmmm. Could it be “Av-‘osto.’ She hesitates. ‘Leithio nin?’
Taïga nods. ‘What does it mean?’
‘It’s Elfish and means something like: “Don’t be scared”…Er… “Set me free, release me…”’
Taïga stares big eyed at Granny. ‘I didn’t even know there was something like an Elfish language! What does all this mean?’
‘I don’t know… I have to think about it. Now go to bed.’
Taïga pushes back her chair and rises. Her legs feel a bit wobbly and she’s lightheaded. She stops on the threshold and looks at Granny. ‘It called me “Hiril vuin”.’ She whispers.
Granny repeats with a shaking voice. ‘My Lady… Everything is clear! The palantìr has chosen you, Taïga.’ For good… and for bad…
But Taïga doesn’t go to bed immediately. She stops at the bottom of the stairs. The tickling sensation is back and amazed she looks at herself. Oh my God. I’m sparkling!?! She lifts her arms and stretches her fingers and the tickling ceases as fast as it began.
‘I saw you.’
‘What are you doing up this late? It’s past midnight!’
‘I’m waiting for Santa! And then I saw you.’
‘What exactly did you see?’ Taïga asks warily.
‘How you sparkled.’ Taïga closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘But don’t worry. I won’t tell. If you convince Granny to let me live here for good!’
‘Rowan, I will try. But I can’t promise you anything.’
‘… And if you stay here and wait for Santa with me…’
Taïga sighs. ‘OK.’
‘Hey! Stop! How many things are you going to ask me?’
‘Three, of course! Wishes always come by three, don’t they?’
‘I’m not a genie, Rowan…’
‘But we need your help! Please?’ And he starts telling Taïga about what he and Peaches have been wondering about… ‘So can we make her real? Like Pinocchio – a real person?’
Taïga promises not to tell Granny and to look it up in the old grimoires up in the attic. Suddenly her phone rings, it’s Linn who can’t sleep either…
They are both eager to catch up, and happily chat about everything that’s happened since they last met. They decide Linn should come over on Boxing Day…
When Santa finally comes, everyone in the mansion is asleep…
The next morning, after opening all their Christmas presents, Granny encourages Taïga to seek answers in the palantìr. She sits for a long time without moving, staring at the crystal ball, apprehending. Will the voice be there again? What will happen if Granny can’t stop it? Do I really want to find out if Mom is dead?
Granny paces nervously outside the study, trying not to listen in on what’s happening.
Tentatively Taïga reaches out towards the palantìr, and the flow of energy is immediate.
‘Av-‘osto, Hiril vuin, Av-‘osto… Ask me and I will show you…’ She tries to concentrate on what she wants to know…
Afterwards she tells Granny and Missy about it all, how darkness hid her mother, but also that she’s practically sure she’s been killed. She tells them about the blood drenched demon, and about fairies… Granny and Missy listen and nod. Shasta most certainly was killed by a dark force… But does Leonardo know? Was it after she left him and Frost? Or worse… Has Leonardo something to do with her disappearing? So many questions… They all agree on not telling Leonardo before learning more. And to keep Rowan out of it…
Linn comes over on Boxing Day. The girls can’t wait to be alone so they can talk.
‘Are you seeing Loki soon?’
‘Uh-huh… I’m having dinner with his parents tonight!’
‘No way? His parents? He’s serious about you, isn’t he?’
‘I think so…’ Absentmindedly Taïga strokes Minuit’s back. ‘And what about you?’
‘What about me?’ Linn picks up Taïga’s phone and starts going through the photos.
‘You know what I mean! Linn… Have you already? You know… Done it?’
‘Are you crazy? I’m 15!’
‘Yeah, but you’re dating Jayler, aren’t you? And everybody knows his reputation…’
Linn giggles. ‘We kissed, that’s all. He dumped me when I didn’t want to… you know…’ She shrugs. ‘I guess he got bored and now he’s with Tess.’
‘I’m sorry! Why didn’t you tell me? He’s such a loser for dumping you…’
‘Yeah… isn’t he? I’m not sure he’s in love with Tess either…’ He talked about you nonstop when we were together. Linn changes the subject. ‘Just wait till the Mayor finds out, they’ll probably have to get married!’
Taïga sniggers. ‘Can you imagine Tess’ mother? Her daughter with a Moroni? She’ll probably disinfect her grandchildren!’
But Linn doesn’t really listen anymore, she’s distracted by a picture on Taïga’s phone. ‘OhmyGod… This one’s a looker! Is that him?’
‘Derek of course!’
‘Let me see…’
‘Yeah, that’s him…’
Linn takes the phone back. ‘Total babe… Is that the only picture?’
‘I don’t know. I think so.’
‘And you said he’s single?’
‘You’re kidding me!’
Taïga laughs. ‘Stop drooling. He’s a stubborn, obnoxious ass! You wouldn’t want to be his girlfriend!’
‘He’s a stubborn, obnoxious drop-dead gorgeous hunk. It’s a pity you didn’t get all of him on the pic…’
‘Linn! He wore jeans!’
‘Oh, c’mon, Taïga. You’re so crushing on him right now!’
‘I am not! We’re just friends!’
‘Liar! I can tell you like him.’ She flashes another picture of Derek – a selfie with Taïga. ‘Just look how good you two look together!’ She quickly turns the pages on the phone. ‘Wow. This is a mean one…’
‘I hate that one! I look drugged, or worse. I can’t believe I kept it!’
‘Maybe because Derek looks hot?’ Taïga just glares at Linn who continues. ‘So how come you have a nude pic of him on your cell?’
‘It’s note a nude! I told you he wore jeans.’
Linn glances up. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it?’ Taïga doesn’t answer. ‘This guy screams “sex”!’ Linn returns to the first picture. ‘Jeans or no jeans…’
Taïga sits up and gently pushes away Minuit. ‘He’s unbearable. I would rather die than being his girlfriend.’
Linn stares at her. ‘You’re crazy… Or sooo in love with Loki you’re blind.’ She winks but when she sees the expression on Taïga’s face she gets serious again.
‘Did I say something wrong?’
‘No… It’s just… I think he’s going to be a dad.’
‘Apparently he’s slept with one of the girls at APYR, and now she’s prego…’
‘OMG! How stupid of them! I mean, they should have protected themselves.’
‘And what happens now? Will she keep the baby? Will they get married?’
‘I don’t know. And I don’t want to talk about it right now…’
She kisses Taïga’s cheek. ‘C’mon, let’s get you ready for your date tonight.’
Taïga laughs but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes. Why am I irritated with her? She can be such a pain sometimes! Derek’s not my boyfriend, Loki is. So why does it hurt so much when I talk about Derek? Gosh, I want to erase those darn photos just so she won’t set eyes on him again.
‘I think you look stunning! It’s just…’
‘The skirt! I knew it! It’s too short?’
‘No, the skirt is perfect! It’s you hair.’
‘What about my hair?’
‘I think you should wear it lose, but strict. Nice and clean, you know what I mean? I can help you flat ironing your hair.’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘OK. Whatever. But I like my hair like this.’ She adds petulantly.
But of course Linn gets her way…
‘They’re here! Ernest! Come and have a look…’
Loki holds Taïga’s arm in a reassuring grip. ‘Don’t worry. They won’t eat you!’ Taïga has already met his dad, but it will be the first time she meets his mother and she’s so nervous.
‘Hello. Nice to see you again, Taïga.’ Loki’s father’s grip is firm. ‘Come on in, it’s freezing out here.’
Loki’s mother has cooked salmon for dinner, it both looks and smells divine. Mrs Simmingway seems to be a sweet person but his little sister is a real pain.
‘Are you getting married soon?’ Loki kicks Erin’s leg under the table and glares at her.
Taïga looks shyly at Loki. ‘I don’t think so, we’re only 15…’
‘Loki’s 16! And he’d like to…’
‘I’ll decapitate your Barbie’s – ALL of them – if you don’t shut up!’
‘Enough! Both of you.’ Ernest glares at his children, and his mother nervously clears her throat. ‘Some more potato gratin, Taïga?’
‘Thank you, Mrs Simmingway.’ Taïga concentrates on her food, trying to hide her smile.
‘Don’t worry, mom. Taïga and I’ll take care of the dishes.’
‘That’s sweet of you, but I have to take out the dessert from the fridge.’
‘We’ll fix that, mom. Just stay put.’
‘Don’t even think about it!’
‘About what?’ Loki feigns innocence and retrieves his hand.
After finishing the dessert, Loki takes Taïga up onto the roof terrace to watch the full moon rise. It’s very romantic, but freezing cold! Taïga shudders, and Loki takes her in his arms.
‘Would you like to see my room?’
Taïga just nods with clattering teeth.
Loki’s room is quite big, and warm. Taïga looks around and nods to herself. It reflects his personality well, with film posters and pictures of fast cars. She picks up the enormous rabbit in the corner and swirls around with it.
‘Dad got me that in China, he went there for the new year…’ He sits on the bed. ‘Come here… I’ll tell you all about it.’
But they don’t have time to talk much, or doing anything else for that matter, before Loki’s mother knocks on the door.
‘It’s time to drive Taïga home, Loki. Dad comes with you, the roads are dangerous at night…’
Part II – End of Chapter 06