Thirteen

What happens when everything you love changes for the worst?

Danielle Miles wants to be normal. She wants to feel normal.
And yet she can never be normal because of her secret; the one thing she despises about herself most of all.
But what happens when she if forced to use her secret to help others who are just like her?
Who are... different.

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14. Thirteen: Chapter Thirteen

Naida pulled me to my feet and we stared around in wonder.
    Tall trees as far as the eye could see and rolling hills and high snow covered peaks in the distance. The sunlight coming through the trees was intense and the earthy scent surrounding me was the greatest smell I had smelt. The quietness was deafening and the coolness of the forest made me shiver slightly. Green moss was growing on the trunks of oak trees and droplets of water dripped from large thick green leaves splashing down onto the muddy floor and the light sound of bird songs echoed around.
    "Whoa..." I breathed.
    "Where are we?" Naida asked, repeating my earlier question.
    "I've no idea," I sighed truthfully. "I can't remember a thing... what happened?"
    "That guy sent us flying through the portal because Sebastian interrupted you," Naida explained. "I think we won't be going back to Nova" She pointed behind me and I glanced over my shoulder but then whipped round as soon as I saw what she was pointing at.
    The portal was a flaming red circle, with the edges a dense black. Sparks of electricity flew off it and when we got closer it started hissing. I extended a shaking hand towards the portal and the hissing got louder.
    "Be careful," Naida cautioned. I nodded and licked my lips. Snapping my eyes shut, I shoved my hand into it and a searing pain shot through my arm and I was thrown away from the portal and into the trunk of a tree. I groaned as I slid down to the ground. "Dani!"
    "I'm okay," I moaned, my joints aching. Naida ran over and helped me to my feet. "How are we gonna get back if we can't touch it?"
    Naida paused for a second, thinking carefully about what to do, then snapped her fingers. "Do you have any paper?"
    "Yes, I carry stacks of stationary for such an occasion," I retorted sarcastically but fished around in my pocket. What I pulled out was a stubbed pencil and a crumpled piece of paper. "That's weird. Where'd the pencil come from?"
    Naida laughed. "Next time you should think about what you say"
    I sighed, passing her my supplies. She smoothed out the paper, quickly scribbled something down and started folding it carefully. "What are you doing?"
    Naida patted down her last fold and grinned. "I'm sending them a message," She finished her paper airplane and aimed it at the portal. "Let's hope this works"
    I stared at the frail little thing and it felt as if our lives were in the balance of that paper airplane. Whatever happened, it was down to that piece of paper making it through that portal. I realized that we could be stuck in this forest for a while, unable to get back to Nova until we fixed the portal or until they could figure something out. But I didn't feel scared.
    I felt happy.
    Naida flicked her wrist and sent the airplane flying towards the portal. It went through without a sound but we still had no idea if it had make it to the other side.
    We let out a deep breath and glanced at each other. We tried to speak until our necklaces started shimmering and vibrating like mad. Our eyes scanned the forest floor, then up into the trees and then repeated, going around and around in circles trying to find whatever was causing our necklaces to go crazy.
    "I don't see anything" I murmured, slowly moving around again in a tight circle until we were back to back. Whatever it was, it was big.
    "I don't hear anything," Naida whispered. "What the hell could it be?"
    "I'm not-" Naida quickly shushed me when we caught the sound of twigs snapping. Wet leaves shuffled and any birds making sound flew away quickly. We held our breath again as a great shape loomed towards us. Everything got darker around us.
    Then the shape lunged. I held my hands up as the red shape circled us at an amazing speed, taking the circle about five times a minute.
    "Naida," I whispered. "I'm gonna yell hopscotch in three seconds and when I do we both run in opposite directions"
    "One question" She whispered back.
    "What?" I hissed.
    "Why hopscotch?"
    "Well, if I shout run it'll know what we're planning" I replied, never taking my eyes off the red blur. Seeming to hear us, it stopped and revealed what it was.
    It looked like a tiger or a cheetah, I couldn't decide between the two, with large grey spots covering its matted red fur. Its gleaming fangs were huge, they looked as if they could cut through anything, and its sharp metal claws shot out of its paws, digging and scraping into the mud with soft crunches. The thing stared at us with a quizzical expression and then lunged at Naida.
    "Naida!" I yelled and dived out of the way when the tigers claws dug into her shoulders and pushed her onto the muddy floor. She screamed out in pain and I ran up behind the tiger, grasping its huge neck.
    "Stop that!" It hissed and bared its fangs. My mouth fell open as the annoyed high voice escaped through the mouth of the enraged tiger. "It hurts" As he was otherwise occupied, I somehow managed to pick up the tiger, giving Naida the chance to get out from under it, and pinned the tiger down. Its knotted fur shifted to a light blue and it cowered under my touch.
    "You can talk?" I asked, my hands stretching to comfort the tigers giant wrists.
    "Of c-course I can," It stuttered. "C-Can you g-get off me p-please?" Naida grabbed my arm and roughly tugged me to my feet. Her hands were shaking as she looked at me as if she'd just seen a ghost.
    "Did it just talk?" She whispered disbelievingly.
    "Yes I did," The tiger stuttered. "And for y-your information, I'm a boy," He straightened up onto all fours, shivered and his fur changed back into the dirty red. "How are you s-so cold?"
    "Oh, I don't know, I've been through a lot lately. You know, like watching my friend being attacked by a flipping tiger!" I yelled.
    It flinched. "S-Sorry about that. I thought you were g-going to attack me"
    I sighed and approached it cautiously. He flinched again and cowered away from me. "Don't worry; I'm not going to hurt you. What's your name?"
    "It..." He paused for a second but then broke down on the forest floor. "I can't remember!" I rolled my eyes and went over to the bawling tiger. It looked quite weird for a tiger to be crying like that.
    "It's fine," Naida soothed, still shaking. "We can call you something else" She still had a tight grip on my arm and I had to pull her towards the tiger.
    "Yeah," I took a good look at him and thought of a name that would best suit a huge, and very heavy, red tiger with sharp teeth and fangs. "How about-"
    "Leo!" Naida yelled in triumph. "It's the perfect name"
    "I love it!" Leo grinned, sitting back and raising his head in a proud way. "It sounds heroic and strong"
    "Alright then Leo," I said, prying Naida off and clapping my hands together. "Can you tell us where we are?"
    "Oh that one's easy," Leo laughed. "You're in Maridia"
    "I knew it!" Naida danced on the spot. "I totally knew it!"
    I ignored her and looked at the huge green leaves towering over us. The trees seemed to go on forever and I could faintly make out slivers of the bright blue sky. This place didn't feel like Earth, if that were possible, and I felt more at home than I ever did on Earth.
    But what do we do now? We couldn't go back to Nova, not unless we wanted to risk getting barbecued, and we had no idea what was on this planet, although I could assume that more weird animals who could talk lived in Maridia.
    "Shall we go for a wander?" I asked Naida, but she sighed and looked disgruntled.
    "Effort!" She groaned.
    "We'll be seeing you, Leo," I waved and dragged her away from the portal. But soon after I heard the heavy footfalls of the tiger following us. I turned around and sighed when I saw him bounding after us. "What are you doing?"
    "I... I want to come with you!" He cried. "The other tigers don't like me because I can't hunt as well as them and I talk too much and I-"
    "There are others?" I swallowed the lump in my throat.
    "Of course," He grinned, whiskers twitching. "There are loads of animals in the Maridia"
    Naida tugged my sleeve. "Maybe he should join us," She whispered. "He could protect us from the other animals"
    "Yeah, I guess. And he could show us around," I shrugged and glanced down at the big pleading look in the tigers blue eyes. "Fine. As long as you can show us where humans live"
    "Oh, you're looking for Geneva. It's the main town here," Leo grinned again, happy to be helpful. "I can show you where it is"
    I swung my hands out in front of me. "Lead the way"

 

 

 We walked for hours. Leo didn't really seem to know where he was going; it felt like he was running us around in circles. The trees didn't help him but if I was given a day I might've be able to navigate better than Leo. And he was a flipping tiger! No wonder the other tigers said he wasn't good at hunting; that was probably because he didn't know where to go.
    But I guess the good thing about it was Naida and me had time to catch up.
    "Saffron's been teaching me magic and witchcraft," Naida smiled. "She began teaching me as well as Scarlett that day we ran away from Sebastian but when Scarlett... went away she was feeling restless so I asked her to teach me even more than what she'd started with and there's so much to learn!"
    "Like what?" I asked, absentmindedly brushing my fingers along the surprising soft fur of the tiger. He seemed to like it; low purrs escaping his throat.
    "I know how to change a man into a frog. That could be helpful," She giggled and tucked her hair behind one ear. "You know, if Sebastian tries to kiss you"
    I stopped in my tracks.
    "What?!" I exclaimed, staring at her as if she were crazy. "Why on earth would he do that?"
    "Oh, come on. You see it; everyone sees it. He so obviously likes you"
    "And sometimes you're just so obviously insane" I sighed. She couldn't be right; he hated me. But then again there was that time in the hallway and when he tried to protect me against the man from the portal.
    And then the pieces finally snapped into place.
    Something had been bugging me the entire time I had been in Maridia already and then it came to me. The Sebastian from the Lunch Room had stuttered. He had stuttered on only the letter 'D'.
    The earrings started burning against my skin and my fist clenched. But then I went back to the real reason I was thinking about Sebastian in the first place.
    He’d gotten a lot nicer. He'd been trying to get closer to me but something was stopping him. Now either someone had injected him with some emotions or Naida was telling the truth. But I couldn't be sure without asking him directly and that would have to wait until I got back to Nova.
    Naida shrugged. "Whatever you say. But I'll believe what I want to believe," She carried on walking but I pulled her to a stop again. "What?"
    I wanted to ask her what she knew about Sebastian. But that would make her think I was hung up on it and I couldn't have that; knowing her she would never let it go and I'd probably snap and do something I would regret later on.
    I quickly wracked my brain for something to tell her until I took in her blue skin. I hadn't noticed until then but she was still in her water Nymph form; I must have gotten so used to it that I just registered it as normal.
    "If Doctor Mayhew was lying about the magical planet and we're still on Earth how are you gonna explain you're blue skin?" I asked, pointing at her arm.
    That took her completely off guard. It never occurred to her that people might freak out upon seeing someone with blue skin. I guess she was so happy she didn't have to hide anymore that she never thought about it. "I can always turn into my human form. It'll be easier than explain that I'm a being made entirely to protect a bloody lake"
    Naida dug into her pocket and pulled out a beautiful bracelet. She slipped it onto her thin wrist and her skin changed back into the light pale skin of the girl I'd first met on the bus. Her hair lost its volume, but stayed just as luminous, and shifted back to light brown.
    She twirled around. "How do I look?"
    "Human," I laughed. Leo pushed his head against my leg and I motioned to Naida. "Let's go. I wanna see what else there is other than forest"
    Leo lead us out into a little clearing with dry, cracked grass that the sun or rain hadn't touched in what looked like years.
    "The town's on the o-other side of this," Leo stuttered, trying to stay in the shadows. "B-Be careful. There are monsters worse monsters on the other side"
    I took in his cowering and shaking form. "Aren't you coming with us?"
    He shook his head. "I can't. Animals on t-this side aren't allowed to go over t-there"
    "Why not?" Naida asked, approaching Leo cautiously.
    "Rules" And with that he took of into the forest, speeding past the tress at an incredible pace. What rules would prevent animals from walking across a patch of grass? I suddenly didn't see the clearing as a dead circle.
    I saw it as a barrier.
    Naida grabbed my arm and pulled me over the crackling leaves underneath. She had watched Leo run away but she saw nothing of it. Once on the other side, we stopped to take in the surrounding and our necklaces shimmered slightly. We were more in danger here.
    As we walked, we stayed silent. No one wanted to break the eerie silence and we listened for the slightest noises that would signal an animal coming for us. All that could be heard was the steady crunch of our feet on the grass and leaves and our ragged breathing held onto each other.
    "Dani...?" Naida whispered. She barely said the words loud enough for me to hear.
    "Yeah?"
    "Where's this town supposed to be?" She asked. "'Cause I feel like we've been walking for-" She snapped her mouth shut when I stopped walking. I heard something. A different breathing pattern to ours.
    Something was out there.
    I frantically searched for somewhere to hide but no tree was small enough to give us shelter or for us to climb. Our only option was to keep walking and hope for the best.
    Starting to walk again, Naida grasped my arm in a steel grip as she scanned the trees for any signs of life and I too held onto her arm for dear life. We kept walking in complete silence until we came to a well worn dirt track which led off in four different directions.
    "Which way?" Naida asked, looking bewildered at the lanes.
    "That way" I guessed, pointing left. Just as we started walking again, a large dark shadow lunged at me and wrestled me to the floor. It was a lot stronger than Leo, holding me down on the muddy floor. I grasped the neck of this one as well, except my hands glided straight through, meeting together in the middle of its neck. It hissed, revealing sharp white fangs floating in the darkness, and clawed at my arm, creating a deep gasp which spilled out blue blood.
    "Dani!" Naida screamed and tackled the animal to the floor, then she ran over and helped me up, dragging me down a lane. She was much faster than me so I had a hard time keeping up as well as keep the cut covered. The thing galloped behind us, probably after more of my blood. "Keep running Dani"
    I realized I was pulling back and quickly hurried to keep up with her.
    "Where are we going?" I asked, trying to keep my eyes off the beast.
    "I have no idea" Naida admitted breathlessly. After a while the animals sounds trailed off into the distance but we kept running. Soon the ground we were trudging on grew steeper and we were ran up a hill, round and round in circles until we got to the top.
    "Whoa..." I breathed.
    The huge building was a castle, with tall turrets and millions of black-framed windows, and it towered over everything, bringing to it an authority I had never seen before. The entrance above our heads towered over us and was made out of brown marble and the building itself looked like it was made out of white gold. The castle looked very expensive. We walked at a slower pace towards the castles entrance, staring at the elegant water fountain spurting out jets of cool blue water, and took the wide steps two at a time up to the huge double door entrance.
    We each took a door and push with all our strength. The wooden doors were heavy but we still managed to slip through the crack and let the doors slam shut, a gush of wind ruffling our hair.
    "Where are we...?" Naida whispered, though it still managed to echo around the vast entrance hall. A grand stair case lined itself out in front of us, spreading out when it got closer to the bottom. The room was decorated with earthy colours and the floor itself was covered in large dark brown tiles. Colourful vases of rare-looking flowers were scattered about and rolls of dusty tapestries lined the walls.
    "No idea," I breathed, and winced as pain shot through my arm. The cuts were bled and stained my other hand. "But I think I'm dying"
    Naida smacked me lightly on the arm. "Don't say that!" She scolded, grabbing me when my head started spinning and I stumbled on my feet. "Okay, you've lost a lot of blood. Damn! If only I had the right equipment I could patch you up"
    "Why don't you ask?" I suggested.
    "That's a plan," She pulled me along as she climbed the stairs. "Hello?" She called, her worried voice echoing around the tall ceiling. "Is anyone there?"
    "Qui sunt vobis?" A sweet voice asked and we both whipped our heads down to the bottom of the stairs. What we saw though was something we had never expected to see.

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