“Eli? Jildez?” Erin called from the front entrance to the ancient looking house.
The house wasn’t all that ancient, but it had been around for over one hundred years. The floors were real hardwood and gleamed with polish. Erin kicked off her shoes on the rug near the door then stepped further into the large interior. To her right was a living room with an arched entrance and a massive fireplace yawning across from her.
It was the first room she and Luc, her best friend, had explored in this house years ago after they’d discovered this property. At the time, they hadn’t realized the house was under an enchantment and the magic surrounding the property had chosen them along with Erin’s younger brother Jae and her cousin Mi-Young to release the enchantment. During the process, they had discovered their own magic.
With a touch of melancholy settling on her, Erin entered the now empty room. Eli and Jildez, the fallen stars, were leaving and most of the house was devoid of furnishings. Erin couldn’t shake the feeling of being left behind and knowing this would be her last visit to the home which left a hollow place in her heart. It had been a second home that had embraced her through her teen years when her aunt and uncle, Mi-Young’s parents, had come to Canada and Erin’s mom—born and raised in South Korea but had married a Canadian—pressured Erin to learn Korean language and culture. A fight with her mom over her extended family and Erin’s lack of Korean skills is what drove Erin to this house the very first day.
A slow breath left Erin’s chest. That had been about eight years ago and Erin was twenty now. Her brother, cousin and Luc were all in university but much to her mother’s disappointment, Erin had never gone. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to attend university rather she just didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life and she had a feeling that a regular career just wasn’t the right fit for her.
“Erin, you’re here,” Eli’s soft voice pulled Erin from her dark thoughts.
“Hey.” Erin wrapped her arms around Eli’s waist in a warm hug. His waist length beard scratching her cheek.
The ancient star was still on earth and hadn’t been called by Morning Star to return to the heavens. The thought warmed Erin’s heart. She wasn’t sure what she’d do if Eli and Jildez had left earth completely.
“So you’ve come to see us off then?” Eli pulled back and Erin blinked away tears that threatened to spill. She smiled instead.
“Yeah, I couldn’t resist coming one last time. I suppose this place will disappear or be sold once you and Jildez leave.”
Eli stroked his long beard and the twitch of his mustache was the only indication of a smile. “The land will remain unused and perhaps the house will sell. But the magic will leave with us.”
“And our magical symbols.” Erin nodded her head towards the front door indicating the front lawn where four objects, symbols of the magic Erin, Luc, Mi-Young and Jae carried, still stood.
“They will disappear as well.”
“Oh.” Erin’s heart sank. She had feared this. She hadn’t been by Eli’s as much lately—her job as a barista in a coffee shop kept her busy—but her time magic meant everything to her. It was a part of her as much as her arms and legs and she couldn’t imagine losing it.
“Dear child, they are merely symbols. The magic of Morning Star will always be with you.”
“So, I won’t lose my magic?”
Eli’s moustache twitched again. “Dear child, have you forgotten everything? Your magic is a gift from Morning Star, you’ll never lose it.”
Hearing this lifted Erin’s spirits and she should have known better. Mrs. Neufeld, an elderly woman in the neighborhood, and Rapha, Erin’s former science teacher from middle school, were human and had also received magic when they were young and still used their abilities. Rapha had actually met Jildez and Eli when she was a child and learned from them.
“Now, I believe my apprentice is in her potions room and she’d appreciate a visit from you. She may need your help with her packing as well.”
“Of course.” Erin stepped away from the ancient star and headed in the opposite direction from the front room down a hallway towards the kitchen, but after two steps she turned and smiled at Eli. “Thanks.”
He smiled with understanding. Erin wasn’t sure if he actually knew what she was thanking him for, but Eli always seemed to know or made her feel like he knew and understood. By the time she reached the kitchen, her mood had lightened and while she was still sad about losing her connection to this place and all the memories it held for her, she didn’t feel that everything was completely over.
“Jildez?” Erin called as she opened the kitchen door.
The younger star, who still carried the physical appearance of a ten-year-old child, stood in the entrance to what would probably be a sunroom or breakfast nook but had turned into a potions room with one side overflowing with greenery and the other lined with shelves filled with supplies for potions or potions in containers. The room was split with a work station and in the back corner saw a squat cauldron over a cook station.
Jildez spun, her long white-blond hair fanning out around her, and a huge grin brightened her features. “You came!” She flung her arms around Erin’s shoulders who returned the hug.
“I can’t believe you guys are leaving. That tomorrow…” Erin’s throat filled with a lump forcing her to cut off voicing her thoughts.
Jildez pulled Erin into the potion’s room. The strong sent of herbs and spices welcomed Erin. It often reminded her of what a medicine shop smelt like when she’d visited Korea to see her mom’s family. “We’ll be gone from here, but you can visit us.”
“Really? Are you staying in Winnipeg?”
Jildez’s lips twisted. “We’re going to a sanctuary out west. It’s in Stanley Park.”
“In Vancouver?” Erin’s eyes narrowed. She’d hiked through the park and had never met or seen anyone living there.
“It’s secluded and protected. Humans will walk right by it without realizing it’s there.”
“That makes sense. Like this house is protected and most people just think it’s a run-down dump.”
“Yeah, something like that.” Jildez handed Erin a box and pointed to the containers on the shelf. “You can help by filling this with those. I’ll work with the plants. They’re a bit temperamental with the move and everything.”
Erin raised an eyebrow but didn’t bother asking what Jildez had meant by temperamental plants. The foliage had always been non-threatening, so she didn’t give it a second thought.
Erin picked up the first container and read the label: Shrinking cream. She placed it in the box and grabbed the next container. The label read, DON’T open. Explosive. Erin shook her head and grinned. Her brother and Luc had once secretly taken a jar to experiment with. They’d rubbed some on one of the paving stones on the patio off the kitchen and let’s just say it’s a good thing Eli tends to be so intuitive or they might have blown up the house. The next container said, NOT for eating, but a spoonful helps in extreme situations. Take only if you’ve swallowed poison.
She continued to fill the box and tried not to read more labels that triggered nostalgic memories.
Mentally, Erin was trying to figure out a way to head out west for a visit. Her job at the small coffee shop was full-time and she’d been there for about four years, but Erin was hoping for something a bit more professional. Yes, she realized that a university education would help but the more she considered it, the less she thought it was the right path for her. Everything in her wanted to pack up her few possessions and head to this sanctuary with Eli and Jildez.
“So why are you two headed to the sanctuary?” Erin asked.
“Eli says he has business there.”
“He’s still not telling you things?”
Jildez laughed. “Nope, but it doesn’t bother me like it used to. It’s the way he is, and I guess I’ve grown accustomed to not having to know things.”
Erin raised her eyebrow and held a small container of Healing Cream in her hands before putting it in the box. “You’re growing?”
Jildez shrugged. Erin had said it as a bit of a joke, but the ancient star had confessed over the years to frustration over not having grown or aged in a number of decades. Over the past few years, Jildez had come to accept that she was stuck in a child’s body. Stars didn’t age like humans did at least not when they were in human form. Erin had no idea what happened to them when they were in the sky, but when a star fell, it was the job of a good star to find them and raise them. As the star matured, they physically changed but it was common to remain at the same physical appearance for many years before changing form. Erin had no idea how long Jildez had looked like a ten-year-old, but Rapha had once said that Jildez hadn’t changed in all the time she’d known the star.
A loud crash sounded from the other side of the room and Erin spun nearly knocking her box onto the floor.
The star was pulsing with white light. The star squatted down to the floor and gasped for breath. Her eyes scrunched shut.
Shards of dirt, pottery and a leafy green plant fanned out around Jildez. She must have dropped the plant when whatever this was started. Erin concluded.
Erin had never seen Jildez act like this and approached with caution. “Are you okay? I should get Eli.”
“No,” Jildez spoke. Her breath coming in quick gasps.
Erin grabbed a broom tucked between the plant table and the wall and used it to sweep the broken pottery, dirt and plants away from Jildez giving the star more room.
“Thanks.” Jildez moved with halting steps out of the corner to the table where she typically prepared her potions. Usually it was littered with ingredients, cutting boards and bowls but they must have already been packed away. Jildez gripped the side of the table for support.
Sweat dripped down the sides of Erin’s face. Cleaning the floor hadn’t been arduous work but the heat radiating off Jildez had quicky changed the temperature of the room by at least ten or fifteen degrees. The glow coming off Jildez filled the small space nearly blinding Erin with its intensity.
Erin backed into a corner next to the plants. Something tickled her hand. Erin looked down and noticed one of the plants stroking her palm with an outstretched vine. She started to move away but her feet were pulled back and she landed on the floor in a very undignified and jarring splat. Glancing at her feet, the vine had twisted its tendrils around Erin’s legs and pulled her down. Erin kicked her feet. It was times like this she wished she had Mi-Young’s fire magic. Erin loved her time magic. It was great when she needed to sleep-in or just slow-down time when running late but in her present battle with the clingy plant, it didn’t help her.
She managed to finally kick herself free of the plant but the small space was full of the blinding light coming off Jildez. Erin couldn’t tell which direction she was going in and hoped she didn’t get turned around and head back to the plant.
“Jildez? Are you okay?” Erin called out.
“I’m… fine…” Jildez’s voice sounded faint and still like she was out of breath.
“I really think I should call for Eli.” Erin patted around with her hands on the tiled floor and felt where it connected to the kitchen. She let her fingers lead her back to the side of the room with potions.
“There’s nothing he can do for me. Don’t worry, Erin. I’m sorry, but really everything is fine.”
“Are you sick or something?” Was this a star’s version of a cold? Erin’s thoughts raced with worry for her friend and mentor.
Her fingers grazed one of the shelves and Erin used it to help her stand.
“I’m fine.” Jildez’s voice was strong and clear. She was breathing easier and she sounded happy.
This calmed Erin down a bit. If Jildez wasn’t worried, then I shouldn’t be either. Erin told herself this to ward off the worry. The heat did seem a bit less intense but the brightness was still blinding. Erin had kept her eyes closed since the plant attacked her and all she could see was red through her eye lids. She didn’t dare open her eyes.
Her hand brushed a container on the shelf and she felt it tumble over the side. Erin couldn’t remember what was in it, but she prayed it didn’t pop open and spill all over the floor. Erin heard it land and bent to hands and knees patting the floor for the container.
“Come on, where are you?” her hands landed in a jelly substance, and she brought her fingers to her nose to try and identify the liquid. Erin had studied potions with Jildez and Rapha over the years, so she’d gotten good at recognizing potions by scent. Her skin tingled and Erin quickly wiped off the cream. Creams that tingled weren’t always a good thing.
Erin got a strong scent of menthol and groaned. If this what she thought it was… Erin quickly wiped the rest off her hands. Her fingers felt slow and numb. Of all the things to fall and plant her fingers in. It was a particularly potent relaxant and Erin could already feel the limpness crawling up her arms. She settled back against the shelves and noticed that the glowing redness behind her shut eyelids was less.
“You doing okay, Jildez?” Erin called out. Her tongue was a bit thick and slow making her words sound sluggish. Her hands fell to her side and brushed against something soft.
“Yes.” Jildez’s voice still sounded happy but it was deep too. Odd.
Something tightened around Erin’s wrist and ankle then yanked her forward. Not again. It was the same plant only this time Erin’s limbs were useless to fight back. She tried to move her lips and ask Jildez for help but her call for help sounded like, “Eeh.” Her lips and tongue refused to cooperate.
The plant dragged Erin across the floor and rolled her to tuck her next to the large pot that contained the roots of the plant. Her limbs gave no resistance and Erin scowled at the ridiculousness of the situation. Of all the ways to go. Death by overly friendly plant. She didn’t think Eli and Jildez had any poisonous or human eating plants so Erin hoped this plant just wanted her company and had no desire to eat her. Hadn’t Jildez said something about the plants being temperamental?
Jidez’s voice—at least Erin thought it was her friend’s voice—sounded like her, but not quite right and the sound was muffled under the thick foliage now wrapped around Erin’s body and mashing her up against the pot.
Jildez said something else but it didn’t sound like she was calling for Erin and then scolding someone. A moment later, Erin felt the vines around her shift and loosen. Erin’s limp body flopped then rolled and the vines now pushed her away from them. Unable to move her tongue, Erin sent up a silent thank you and was glad to be back on the potion room’s tile floor even if she was face down in the pile of dirt she’d swept up earlier.
Soft hands patted Erin’s back. “Erin, are you okay? I’m so sorry about Buddy. He does that sometimes. I think he was just trying to protect you. Erin?”
Erin felt her body roll over and the first thing she noticed was a young woman with long white hair draping down the side of her head and sweeping the floor next to Erin staring at her with concerned eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“iled?” Erin attempted to say Jildez’s name as her mind caught up to what must have happened. Her friend had finally gone through a growth spurt. The woman before her appeared a few years older than Erin.
“One second.” Jildez waved her hand over Erin and Erin felt the relaxing potion dissolve and sensation return to her limbs.
She sat up and groaned with relief. “Oh, thank you.” Erin wiggled her fingers savouring the ability to move again. “And it looks like you’ve finally aged.”
Jildez giggled it was deeper and no longer had the childlike bell sound to it.
Erin studied the adult face of Jildez. “I think we’re close in age now.”
Jildez looked to the side. “Well, technically I’m already over a thousand years old. My physically body is closer in age to you now.”
Jildez helped Erin stand and they took in the state of the potion room. Plants were knocked over and more potion containers had landed on the floor. Some of the plants had a growth spurt with Jildez and the room looked like a mix between a tropical forest with vines hanging from the ceiling and a room that had been ransacked.
“It seems Buddy got a little carried away.”
“Yeah, about that. You named your plant Buddy?”
Jildez lifted her shoulders. “He’s friendly.”
“Well how come you never let me know you had a plant that… that… goes crazy. Usually they stay in their pots.” Erin was at a loss for words. She didn’t quite know how to describe the plant since it didn’t feel like it attacked her.
“He’s usually very shy but he must have been concerned for you. He wouldn’t have hurt you.”
Erin didn’t bother answering and busied herself with straightening her clothes and brushing off the dirt.
The kitchen door burst open and Eli strode through. He took one look at the Jildez and Erin then his eyes traveled over the state of the room.
He harumphed and spun back towards the door. “Congratulations on your growth spurt, Jildez,” he called over his shoulder. He then murmured to himself, “I leave them alone for five minutes.”
Jildez and Erin held their breath until Eli had left the room then glanced at each other and burst out laughing. Erin slung her arm around her friend who was now closer to her height and tugged Jildez close. Jildez leaned against Erin. Erin knew she’d miss these two, but in that moment, she was determined to find a way to head out west to the sanctuary in Stanely Park. Soon. This—Ancient Magic, learning it, practicing it—was her life. University wasn’t for her and it never would be. She’d known that all along. Ancient magic, Morning Star, Eli and Jildez, and this crazy world was what mattered to her.