A little help from someone
Ken's face appears on my phone screen after the third ring. He looks concerned. "Did something happen?"
I shake my head, then shrug. "I don't think so. I don't know."
"Isn't it the middle of the night where you are?" he wants to know. Behind him, I can see the cabinets of his kitchen, telling me that I likely disturbed him while having breakfast.
"I think it is," I confirm distractedly. "A little after 2am? Something like that."
"Why are you awake at such an ungodly hour?" he asks, frowning. "Did something happen to wake you?"
I shake my head slowly. "I never went to bed."
"It went that well, huh?" There's sympathy in his voice.
"For the most part, it went about as well as can be expected," I reply slowly. "It's still home, it didn't change. It never changes."
"And yet, something upset you," observes Ken. "Otherwise, you wouldn't be calling me at 2am."
"I'm calling you because no-one else is awake," I point out, lest he think there's some special meaning to it.
He just smiles. "Of course. I never thought any differently."
"What is it that you wanted to talk about with…" Ken pauses briefly, "with someone?"
I rub a hand across my face, trying to concentrate and bring order into my thoughts. Sleep might be an impossibility right now, but that doesn't mean I'm not dead tired.
"I didn't find out anything about mysterious disappearances," I begin when I feel that I have my thoughts reasonably under control. "My mother said she doesn't know anything about magical beings disappearing in the past and I believe her."
"It was probably a long shot," acknowledges Ken.
I nod, before lapsing into silence for a long moment. Ken, to his credit, doesn't show any signs of impatience, merely watching me on the screen of his phone.
"I also asked her about The Fifths," I add finally.
"And did she know anything about them?" he prompts.
"The… the special power… she said it's tied to aether," I answer, thinking back to my conversation with Mum. "Aether or quintessence. She didn't know how this power works, but aether is the element."
"I suppose it's a little better than Heaven, at least?" replies Ken and raises both eyebrows. It takes me a second, but then I realise it's his attempt to lighten the mood a little.
"I suppose it is," I agree, allowing myself a smile.
There's another moment of silence, before Ken carefully asks, "Did she tell you anything else?"
"Not Mum, no." I shake my head and sigh. "I also talked to one of my sisters though and my father and… oh, this is stupid!"
"It probably isn't." His voice sounds almost gentle.
"No, no. It is. It's stupid," I insist. "Forget I said anything."
He inclines his head slightly, looking thoughtful. "How about you tell me and we decide together how stupid it is?"
I narrow my eyes, trying to figure out whether he's patronising me, but if he is, it's not immediately apparent. Thus, deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt, I answer him with a question of my own, "Do you know how a fairy can tell whether her unborn child is also a fairy?"
"I don't know, but I suppose there are special shows of magic involved?" Ken guesses.
"Apparently, there are," I confirm. "When my sister was pregnant with her daughter, she says her own magical powers were… enhanced, if you will. From what she told me, the same was true for my mother during all three of her pregnancies with daughters."
"You mean when she was pregnant with your sisters?" asks Ken, but even as he speaks, I can see a frown appear on his face. "But no, you mentioned two of your sisters being twins, so…"
"So they only count as one, as far as pregnancies are concerned," I finish for him.
Ken taps his chin thoughtfully. "This is interesting."
"I guess at least 'interesting' is better than 'stupid', huh?" I smile wryly, attempting a joke of my own.
He laughs softly. "Miles better."
It's not much, but I'll take what I can get.
"So…" begins Ken when I don't say anything for a few moments, "you mean to tell me that when she was pregnant with you, your mother was more powerful as well?"
"Apparently, she was even extra-powerful," I correct. "Di said, and Dad confirmed, that she never had more magic than when she was pregnant with me."
"Well, that's certainly something," Ken states.
"She even… she even considered the possibility of me… of me being one of The Fifths," I continue haltingly.
Ken whistles softly.
"And then I was born and had no magic whatsoever," I finish, my voice suddenly gruff.
There's a humming sound as Ken considers that. "Is there a theory as to why that is?"
I sigh heavily. "Many theories, all of them proven wrong over the years. I guess it was just… a fluke. As my mother confirmed herself, I never showed any signs of magic."
"Except you did, didn't you?" he points out.
"You mean my magical radar?" I ask. "Or when you did that little party trick of making my skin glow?"
"Either." He shrugs. "Both."
It's sweet of him, to try and make me feel better, but others have tried that before without much success.
I smile a tired smile. "That's nice of you to say. Really, I appreciate the sentiment. It's just… I feels like someone keeps dangling magic in front of my face only to end up snatching it away every time I reach for it. It's… it's a tiresome feeling."
"I bet it is," agrees Ken, not without sympathy. "But don't you think that somehow, those puzzle piece must fit together?"
I raise my shoulders in a shrug. I've long since thought that there's surprisingly little logic to real life.
"In fact," Ken continues, looking deep in thought, "I might have… an idea, if you will."
"An idea?" I raise a sceptical eyebrow.
"An idea as to how all of this might fit together," he elaborates.
"And what does that idea entail?" I want to know, remaining unconvinced by his words. I know he means well, but I've truly heard it all before and I know better than to allow anyone to get my hopes up.
There's a moment of silence as Ken purses his lips. "I think… I'd like to check something first, if that's alright with you. I don't want to throw around unproven theories that might still go up in smoke."
"Then you shouldn't be teasing them either," I remark, but there's no bite to my words.
Ken smiles apologetically. "You're right. I'm sorry for that."
I wave his apology aside. "It's okay. Check all you like. It makes no difference."
"It's a good theory!" Ken insists. "I really think there could be something to it. I just need to be sure. Or, surer, at least."
"Then go do whatever you need to do to be surer," I tell him, while managing to bring a half-smile to my face to show that there are no hard feelings.
"I will," he promises, "and when I do, I'll be in touch. Alright?"
"Alright," I confirm.
Ken smiles one of those charming smiles of his that make it hard not to smile back. "Perfect. And now it's time for me to head to work and for you to go to bed."
"Don't tell me what to do," I grumble.
He just grins wider. "So, I take it you're planning an all-nighter?"
I don't and he knows it. Rather than admit to it, however, I just throw him a dirty look and remain silent.
"Sleep well, whenever it ends up happening," Ken tells me and I recognise it as the offer of peace that it's meant to be.
"I will," I therefore reply, if a little grudgingly. "Have fun at work."
"I won't," he retorts immediately.
It's a weak joke, but it manages to raise a smile from me nevertheless. I assume that was is goal all along, because he looks quite pleased with himself.
Waving vaguely at the phone, I press button to end the call and watch him disappear from the screen, to be replaced by a selfie of a beaming Carl and me at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.
I throw my phone on the bed before following suit, lying on my back and staring up at the ceiling. Objectively, the call didn't achieve much, except for allowing another quarter of an hour to pass, meaning that it's even longer past my bedtime. I'm so tired that my brain feels like mush and my ability to think clearly is quite obviously impaired. Still, I find myself wondering about which idea Ken alluded to and whether there really is a logical explanation to make all the puzzle piece together.
I must have fallen asleep in the midst of my musings, because when I'm next able to grasp a conscious thought, the sun is shining through the window, tickling my face. There's also something tickling my feet and when I crack open an unwilling eye, I see that the culprit is quite human.
"Nan!" I protest and drag my legs up. "Stop!"
"Rise and shine, little sister!" Nan sing-songs and starts pulling at my blanket.
Luckily, I am prepared. Many years of living with my siblings honed my instincts and even half-asleep, I know not to let go of the blanket. I curl my fingers around the edge and hold on tight against Nan's blanket-stealing ministrations.
"Ha! So you are awake!" observes Nan triumphantly, though without leaving me or my blanket be.
"I'm not," I grumble. "Go away!" I try to pull the blanket over my head, but Nan probably sensed that and now she's the one holding on tightly.
"Maybe we should leave her be for a while longer, Nan". That's Di's reasonable voice, coming from somewhere to my right.
Nan, alas, is not having it. "It's past 11am. It's time she gets up."
"She's jetlagged," Di points out.
I love Di.
"Yes, I'm jetlagged," I mumble into the upper edge of blanket. "Let me sleep."
"The best way to fight jetlag is to immediately adjust to the schedule of whatever country one is in," lectures Nan. "Our little world traveller should know that."
She's right, and I know that she knows that I know that she's right. Sleeping in is possibly the very worst way to fight jetlag and I'm perfectly aware of that.
"Come on, up with you!" encourages Nan. Her voice is not unkind, but definitely insistent.
"Nan…" Di sighs and I mentally picture her shaking her head at her twin.
Alas, Nan just clucks her tongue and tugs at my blanket once more. Having let my grasp go slack, I'm not quick enough to pull the blanket back towards me and therefore, can only watch as Nan holds it up triumphantly.
Groaning, I bury myself deeper in the pillows. "Give it back!"
"Are you still wearing yesterday's clothes?" Nan wants to know, blithely ignoring my protests.
"And what if I am?" I mutter. "I fell asleep last night before I could get changed."
"Clearly so," replies Nan drily. "Now you can get changed though and then we'll talk."
"What about?" I peer up at her warily.
Nan doesn't miss a beat. "Why you're here and how we can help you."
With a heavy sigh, I twist my head around to look at Di, who's leaning in the doorway. She just shrugs and smiles sympathetically. No-one knows more about Nan's forcefulness than her twin does.
"Okay, alright, you win! I'm getting up!" With a glare at Nan, I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. Nan smiles, satisfied at having gotten her will, and takes two steps back to give me some space. In the doorway, Di rolls her eyes.
"I'm up!" I announce, quite needlessly. "Now you can leave, so I can get changed."
"But no getting back to bed!" warns Nan.
I just give her my most withering look while brushing past her to where my still unpacked bag sits on the old rickety desk I used to do my homework at. From the corner of my eye, I see Di reach for Nan and pull her from the room, despite her twin's outraged expression at such rough treatment.
Knowing that Nan won't be denied when she's on a mission, I do refrain from going back to bed. Instead, I get dressed and, after a brief detour to the bathroom, make my way downstairs where Nan and Di are waiting in the living room.
"Where's the rest?" I ask while sitting down in an armchair.
Di pushes a plate with some sandwiches and a cup of coffee my way. "Hannah's in school, Susan went to the market, Dad is out on a call and Mum took Walter and Pat to the old lighthouse."
"So, it's just the three of us," I observe.
"Four," corrects Nan and holds up her phone. On the screen, I spot Joy, sitting in what I assume is her office in the fancy hotel she helps manage.
"Hello sister mine," she greets me and waves.
I wave back half-heartedly and survey the three of them. "Is this an intervention?"
"It's nothing of the sort," reassures Di. "We're just…"
"We're wondering what brought you back to Canada," finishes Joy, ever the voice of reason.
"I had… questions," I reply after a pause. "I still have questions. Questions that need to be answered. I was hoping to find those answers here."
I can see Nan and Di exchange a glance. On the phone screen, Joy keeps her gaze firmly on me. "Okay. So, ask away."
Alas, where to begin?
"Begin at the beginning," Joy tells me, quite as if having read my thoughts.
And, so, with little option but to comply in the face of their combined insistence, I do, indeed, begin at the beginning. I tell them about Miranda, about the potential other disappearances, about the strange attacker in the alley. What I don't tell them about are the witches, because that's not a subject we talk about in this family, and The Fifths, because that's a subject I'm quite sick of talking about.
"Why would anyone kidnap magical beings?" asks Nan, a frown etched on her face.
"I suppose whoever it is is targeting young or newly magical beings because they're easier to overpower," Di muses.
I nod. "That was our conclusion as well."
"Our?" echoes Nan.
"Carls and mine," I reply, recovering quickly.
Nan nods, accepting my words. Behind my back, I uncross my fingers before one of them can see.
"The real question is to what purpose they would do that," Joy wonders aloud, her mind evidently still caught up with the question of the anonymous kidnapper.
"Kidnapping other magical beings?" Di clarifies.
Joy nods. "Yes. There must be a purpose to it."
"Most crimes are done for personal reasons," Nan chimes in knowingly. "Almost all of the crimes we report about in the news are crimes of passion or jealousy."
"Or greed," adds Di drily.
"Or greed," agrees Nan. "Money does make people do the craziest things."
"Hence the existence of reality TV," I pipe up.
Joy tsks at us quietly. "Please focus."
"I'm right though," I mutter, slightly put out. "Why would I'm a Celebrity exist but for the money in it?"
"Relevance," replies Di, "and any sort of fleeting fame they can get their greedy little hands on."
Nan claps her hands together loudly, making me jump. "You heard Joy. Do focus!"
Childishly, I stick out my tongue at her. Nan ignores me, but next to her, I see Di giving me a little smile.
"Do we think that there's a personal motive behind these kidnappings?" asks Joy practically.
I slowly shake my head, sobering as I do. "I can't say for sure, but I'm not seeing one. If there is, we haven't discovered it. Though to be fair, I hardly knew Miranda and I didn't know any of the other potential victims at all. I mean, I don't even know who they are! All I heard about were vague rumblings about unexplained disappearances. The most detailed it got was about a young shapeshifter disappearing from his room one night, but I don't know his name either."
"So, we can't rule out a personal motive, but we don't have anything pointing towards it either," summarises Joy.
"Is it possible that it's about the magic?" wonders Di. "If Rilla is correct, we have a new demon and a young shapeshifter among those who disappeared. In her, a fairy got attacked as well, so that's half of all known magical beings."
"I'm considering that as well," confirms Joy. "It does look like whoever is doing this is targeting different magical beings. That could be down to opportunity or it could be because they're deliberately trying to get different type of beings under their control."
Nan purses her lips in thought. "What for?"
"To weaponize them, potentially," suggests Joy.
I feel a cold shiver run down my back. "So, you mean whoever is doing this is… building an army? A magical army?"
"It's a possibility," replies Joy, quite matter-of-factly in light of what we're talking about.
"An army of different magical beings, made to do the biding of one." Nan whistles softly. "Now, there's a scary thought."
"Or else, maybe whoever is doing this is trying to somehow take their magical powers for himself?" asks Di. "Either by stripping them of their powers or by… learning from them?"
"So, instead of an army of magical beings we get one super-powerful being capable of all different kinds of magic?" Nan grimaces. "Somehow, that's not a much more comforting thought."
"None of this is comforting in the least," I grumble, not liking where this conversation is going at all.
"Is it even possible to use another being's power?" Di wants to know, clearly trying to test her own theory.
Nan shrugs. I raise my hands to show that I have no idea whatsoever. Only Joy, always the most well-versed of us in magical theory, attempts an answer, "I don't know how one would go about doing it, but I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility. I do think that to have any chance at success, someone needs to possess active magic powers to begin with."
"So, we're looking for a witch?" Nan wants to know.
"Or a fairy," Di adds quickly.
Briefly, her eyes meet mine and I know we're both thinking of Walter. Di is his closest confidant in the family, so it's no surprise that he told her about practicing witchcraft. At the same time, she, of course, knows that he never had much of a chance of hiding it from me and my magic radar.
"Both are possible," acknowledges Joy. "Do you have any idea what kind of being we're dealing with, Rilla?"
"Nope." I shake my head. "My guess is as good as yours."
"What about your magic radar?" Nan enquires. "Don't you always know what kind of being someone is?"
"Normally, I do," I confirm, a little unwillingly. "In this case though… nothing. It was just… blank."
Joy makes a thoughtful sound. "Do you think we're dealing with an entirely new being or that they somehow masked which type they are?"
"I don't know!" I sigh, frustrated. My magic radar is the only kind of very limited magic I possess and now, even that is deserting me!
"If it was a new being…" Di begins slowly, "wouldn't you know that? I mean, wouldn't your radar throw up a new, unknown alert instead of being just blank?"
"I… I suppose so?" I reply, not knowing whether she truly considers that a possibility or whether she's just trying to make me feel better.
"It sounds logical," declares Nan, sounding quite certain.
Sometimes, I wish I had her… her surety, her confidence. It goes for all my sisters. They never waver or doubt, they just know and for someone like me, who hardly ever knows anything for sure, that's… well, let's just say it makes me more well-acquainted with the little green monster of envy than I care for.
This, of course, is one of the reasons why I so dreaded coming back, and also one of the reasons why I still struggle to look my sisters in the eye most of the time. I can't do it now either, so I instead direct my gaze to my hands clasped in my lap and keep it there.
"It does sound logical," I hear Joy agree. "Which means we're likely dealing with a witch – or a fairy – who is able to mask themselves and who is targeting inexperienced magical beings of different kinds to somehow utilise their magic, either to weaponize it or to actively strip them of the skills they possess to make use of them in other ways."
There's a moment of pause and when I look up, I can see the three of them looking at me expectantly.
"Does that sound right, Rilla?" asks Di carefully.
I sigh, then nod. "I think it does, yes. It's just…"
"It's just what?" prompts Nan when I trail off.
"It's just…" I repeat. "It's just that we're no closer to finding who did this, are we?"
"No," confirms Joy, "but at least we know where to start!"
The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'The one' (written by Shakira and Glen Ballard, released by Shakira in 2001).
Of course there was a Bernhard Fredrick Bang! Much easier to research veterinarians of olden times than having to make up on of my own and name him ;).
Hannah will actually do quite a bit to help Rilla, so you're absolutely on to something there! She won't be involved in the moment of the big, all-consuming change, but she will provide a lot of help and assistance afterwards, of the quiet and everyday kind that isn't necessarily glamorous, but which is even more important than the more showy and glamorous kind.
You're also certainly correct that Rilla often felt left behind in her large, loud, boisterous family. A large part of her resentment comes from those memories of her childhood when she felt that no-one took much notice of her. With seven children, I think that can't always be helped, but that's hardly going to make a child feel better when it feels overlooked. The way Rilla rationalised it, she wasn't given much attention because she wasn't special (read: magical and/or clever) enough and while the jury is still out on whether that conclusion is accurate, it's what she believes and it feeds a lot of her thoughts and actions. Therefore, yes, when she feels that someone actually believes in her and her abilities, she feeds on that and it tends to bring out the best in her, because it's not something she experienced often when growing up.
As for Gilbert, he has no explanation for what happened after Rilla's birth because he genuinely doesn't know. We'll get our first hints of what happened in the next chapter and it's something totally out of Gilbert's realm of knowledge. He has no better explanations for Rilla simply because he doesn't know any more than what he's telling her. He's trying to reassure her here (and when he defends Anne, he truly does believe what he's saying), but he's working with limited information, so can't really do more than telling her that she is loved just the way she is. He's genuine when he says it and it goes for all is children, because I do truly believe he never felt threatened by those able to do magic. Him being away often during their childhood is simply due to him taking his medical work very, very seriously, as I understand he does from canon. There's another conversation between him and Rilla coming up that dips deeper into how he feels about the magical side of his family, but I promise that if there is a conspiracy, Gilbert has no part in it ;).
Alas, Ken had to turn up again because he has access to information that Rilla otherwise would have no way to find out about. I promise he won't stick around continuously though and I do hope you enjoyed Rilla turning to her sisters for support as well (if slightly grudgingly) =).
I'm glad to know that you like Gilbert! I do agree that he's a very kind and supportive father. He doesn't have it all figured out either, but I do see him as a father who truly tries his very best to support his children and who loves them whole-heartedly, which really makes him stand out!