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“Wow!” she breathed. The inside was a tiny home! Small, tidy, and accented with a cheerful summer yellow was the kitchen, first seen as she entered. She didn’t see a place for the cook to peel apples or slice meat until she saw a board, latched to the wall, which could be pulled down for extra space. Above the sink itself was a thin wire rack for dishes to sit and drip dry, and there was another latch on the front of this, too.

“Must be to make sure everything stays in place,” Seren said aloud, her eyes roaming. They must have stored the dishes and cutlery somewhere else since she didn’t see them. In fact, the only item she found was a mug turned upside down in the sink.

Three steps past the kitchen was a varnished table. Laid into the cherry wood were smooth indentations, the perfect sizes to safely keep a plate and glass. The other side was covered in ink stains of many colors, basic black being the most prevalent, but red and blue appearing almost as often. To the right side of the table, and yet somehow a part of it, was a bookshelf. Seren knelt down, humming in thoughtfulness as she saw the cabinet on the bottom.

“Interesting... the table slides into the bookshelf, with the cabinet top also used as the bottom shelf. That’s an amazing idea, I never would have thought of it!” She didn’t open the bottom cabinet, but she did take a few seconds to scan the bookshelf, which was sealed with a wide yellow ribbon tied into a bow at both ends. Water Elemental Basics was part of a set she had back at her house, along with other primers for the physical elements. For Love of Air was a book she wished she could bring to her dad since it was sure to be in his interests. She craned her head to see who the author was and made a note to bring up Mept Azura. It should be easy enough to pass off as something one of her letter friends had brought up. The other three books didn’t interest her as much: Flames of Passion, Grounded in Earth, and Seeking Clouds. They looked to be a romance set, and while she had a habit of reading almost anything, romance was one of those genres she tended to stay away from.

As Seren turned to the bed, she noticed that the room didn’t have a single chair to its name. It was a little strange, but she laughed when she realized the bed was pulling double duty. Turned down, it provided a seat at the table’s end and had a spot where someone else could sit and relax. All in all, the area was neat, clean, and looked as if the person had just stepped out for a few minutes.

A small feeling settled in Seren’s stomach, and the hair on her arms prickled.

“Where’d they go?” Clearly, there had been a person here. Living, eating, happy to be in this unique home. But where were they now? And why weren’t they here? Seren whirled around, her heart pounding hard enough she was sure her dad could hear it all the way back at the house. If the person wasn’t here, then it meant they were somewhere on the island. If they were somewhere on the island, her dad would know about it soon… and that, in turn, meant that she wouldn’t be able to come back. The shellship would be taken and, if she was lucky, placed with the balloon in the restricted area. Or maybe it would be worse knowing that this beauty was still on the island and not being able to examine it.

Or maybe... maybe her parents would use this as a learning experience! All three of them could look for the person together, then get to know their new friend, talking about what they had in common and if there was anything they disliked! A feeling of happiness fluttered in her stomach at the more positive outcome.

She turned, staying still for a moment inside the doorway. Under her hand the wood was cool to the touch, and leaving the homey place felt... wrong. Somehow. Even though it wasn’t hers. Seren wanted to stay and read the books, and wait for whoever had built their life here to come back. But that little scratching at her soul was starting up again, and she needed to leave. So she did, once more tromping through the forest of her home.

Thoughts flew to uninvited places as her feet pounded the earth and grass. She could tell her parents about this. She could keep it a secret. She could go back after cooling off and explore the house further. She could search for the missing person. They might be in trouble. Her thoughts were tumbling faster and faster, so out of control that it was a blessing to finally obey her orders and jump into the cold surf. It broke through everything and allowed her to collect scattered ideas as she floated in the sea.

“Okay... first, I need to go back and report this.” She grimaced as she remembered her father’s commands. “Except I’m supposed to eat supper and go straight to bed.”

And normally, that would be that. Father’s charms were too hard to break. “Then we’ll talk about this during breakfast, and that’ll be too late if the person needs help.” She paddled for a bit as an idea occurred to her. “I might be able to bend those commands a bit, though. Then, when they ask what’s going on, I can explain everything!”

It should work. It would work, she’d make sure of it! Seren made her way to the shoreline, shoes squishing because she hadn’t kicked them off before jumping into the water. The way back to the house was dark, but her feet didn’t fail her. They knew the trails well enough that she could look about her, making sure that the everyday objects she knew had their normal shadows, and that they remained that way.

Lights flickered in one of the second-floor windows, and when she entered, the scents of dinner still lingered in the air.

“They probably finished eating before they went upstairs.” She glanced at the ceiling, then picked up a heavy ceramic plate, one that she’d made several years ago when first learning pottery. She’d always said it was ugly, with tiny fingerprints baked into the clay and no discernable pattern, but her parents had been proud of what she’d accomplished. It would do perfectly.

She picked it up, raised it above her head, and threw it to the ground. The resounding smash was satisfying, and should be loud enough to bring her parents down. She waited, shaking slivers from the top of her feet. Nothing. Very well. Good thing she’d made more back then. A bowl followed the plate, then a mug. Finally, as a second plate slipped from her fingers to crash upon the ruins of its brethren, shadows appeared on the stairwell.

“What are you doing?” Her father abruptly stopped, holding out an arm to make sure neither he nor her dad cut their feet on the sea of shards. “Seren!”

Perfect! Her plan had worked.

“I have to tell you something—”

“No.” Her father was furious, his face flushed an ugly purple and both of his hands clenched into fists. “Not one word!”

“But—”

“I’m not in the mood to listen to your temper tantrum. You’re going to go, silently, up to your room and lie in bed after cleaning up everything you’ve just broken. My words from before still stand, all of us will talk in the morning. Good. Night.”

Her dad moved as if to say something, but her father shook his head, and his mouth closed. Shooting Seren a saddened look, he turned around and started going back upstairs.

“This was petty,” her father said, voice low. “And I hope you’re happy with the response you got.” He didn’t bother waiting for a reply and within a few minutes, both of them were out of sight.

“Petty!?” Seren kept her voice to a harsh whisper as she bent down and collected the bigger pottery shards. “Petty! He thinks I did this because I’m angry at him?!”

Well, she hadn’t been before, but elements above she was beyond furious right now. If she had control over fire there would be a shimmer to her body, fueled by the flames of rage she could feel burning their way through her blood. She dumped the shards outside and grabbed a broom.

“No.” The bristles made a soft swishing noise against the stone floor. “No more. I’m not taking it.”

A plan sketched itself out in her head. It was dicey. Risky. Depended on her parents sleeping through the night so she could be hours away before they woke up. And there was too large of a chance for everything to go wrong. First, though, there were things she needed to grab from around the house, and that required her to be free of her father’s charm. She finished cleaning up, gave one last hard sweep to make sure the rest of the fragments were out the front door, and composed a mental list.

Working her way, quietly as ordered, up to her room was easy. She bypassed her parents’ bedroom, pausing briefly to overhear her name in the middle of a discussion, but ultimately deciding to ignore it. She’d tried to talk to them and they hadn’t wanted to listen. Fine. Seren wasn’t interested in talking anymore. She went to her room and laid down on the bed, looking at the dark ceiling. First things first was going to be a candle, but she needed her parents to go to sleep. If either of them saw her light or heard her walking through the house, she’d be in even more trouble.

She spent the time collecting anything she thought she’d need that was within arm’s reach of her bed. Her climbing backpack was first, and she used her top sheet to muffle the sound of everything being spilled out. Shoved under the blanket and then molded into a Seren-sized lump, it left her with more than enough room to pack what was important.

A few reading books were snagged: Elemental Mastery was worth it since she still needed to figure out what she could control, but Tides of the Heart, a forbidden friendship between a water elemental and a charmer, was put under her pillow. She would like to have it within easy grasp, but as she and her father could quote pages at each other, it wasn’t like she wouldn’t remember it. 101 Ways to See Luck was placed next to Elemental, and the final book was actually a notebook. She jammed her wrap of wax colors in as well, along with a few charcoal sticks.

It was quiet. She stood up, step by step tiptoeing to the door and bending to listen at the cracks. Nothing. She strode back to the bed, put the backpack over her shoulders, and grabbed a candle stub. Striking the match sounded louder than anything else in the room, and still no one threw open the door to catch her.

Seren hunched over the flame as she made her way down the hallway and past the stairs. There were two more things she needed to take. The family library was lit by the shining moon, which negated the need for the candle. She placed it down near the archway and went straight to the writing desk both of her parents used; her dad wanting information to never be restricted had resulted in there being no door and that was something to be thankful for now. The desk was old, one of the few things in the house not made from something on the island, and she remembered being absolutely fascinated with it for more than a year. The smoothness of the metal, the runes carved inside and outside, the hidden panels that only the three of them knew about. Where it had come from was a mystery that she’d never been able to solve.

“Eqo mu yz uvezzumf,” she whispered, the words quick to spill from her tongue. The largest of the hiding spots glowed blue long enough for her fingers to press at the corners. A satchel lay inside and she snatched it, clutching it to her chest. “Vsedo.”

That was all she needed from this floor. Keeping on her toes allowed her to hurry down the steps and back into the kitchen. She took a few precious seconds to cram the satchel into the backpack before burying it in fruit, dried meat, and bread, and was about to open the door when she heard something.

A footstep. Two steps. Coming from the stairwell. Seren ducked under the table. This was it. She was going to be caught, found because she’d taken the extra time to grab some food, and her parents were going to murder her. Silk sleeping clothes walked past her. It could be either of them at this point; father liked his fine clothes and used any chance he got to dress dad in similar items. They stopped in front of her, her slight gasp covered by the sound of pouring water.

“Seren... I wish I could let you go, but you have no idea how frightening this world can be.”

It was her father. She almost let a sigh of relief slip out of her, but covered her mouth at the last second. Sure, he didn’t have command of air like her dad did, but he wasn’t stupid or hard of hearing; if she wasn’t careful, then she’d be caught. She counted in her head, each beat of her heart a non-verbal wish for him to leave. Gulping continued, but then there was a gentle clink. He’d left. She waited for the stairs to quiet down again and then she was running, sprinting out the door and down the hill.

Roots tried to trip her along the way and thorns scratched at her legs and arms hard enough to leave that itchy feeling, meaning something was bleeding, but Seren didn’t care. She was past thoughts and had submerged into feelings, drowning in her emotions.

She reached the door to the shellship and threw it open, gasping for breath in the doorway. As she leaned against the side, waiting to hear someone demanding to know who she was and why she was there, her lungs felt less on fire and she realized there was still no one here. She shut the door behind her and latched it. The satchel was taken out of the backpack, and shaking hands flicked through the papers to find one specific spell.

“Here it is.” She coughed, a trickle of fear hard to swallow. Wouldn’t stealing someone’s house make her a thief?

“Sidyomy ez uu dyes fn pyj oem orj erey oyjid. Zu pui tvutod dum fvsayv jsig yum fzab oyj omoc yretf. Djossdiq.”

As soon as the last word left her lips, the shell began to shake. Looking out the window, Seren could see darker shadows pass against lighter ones as tree branches gave way to the star-lit sky. She cracked the door open, staying well inside as the shell swayed.

“I forgot!” She spun around and grabbed her journal, ripping out two pages and snatching a charcoal pencil. The first note was quick and to the point.

Thank you for letting me borrow your ship ~ I’ll bring it back, I promise! Talk to the two men at the house on the hill, Seren says thanks!

The second was harder to write, but with her home growing smaller and smaller in the distance, she didn’t have time to ponder over words.

Dad & Father ~ if you find this, then I’m taking a trip. Don’t look for me, I’ll come back when I’ve seen enough of the outside world. Love you both, Seren.

She folded the notes and flung them out the door, watching until she couldn’t tell where they had landed. And with that, she was free.

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About the author

CoffeeQuills

  • Tokyo
  • Dust Warrior

Bio: CoffeeQuills is a transplanted Floridian, living in the Land Rising Sun. They write for 4thewords (an RPG for writers) and in the twists of space and time created by caffeine, they enjoy coming up with stories all along the spec-fic range. Anything goes for this Hufflepunk, so hold tight and pretend it's a plan!

“This is who I am, right here, right now, all right? All that counts is here and now, and this is me!”

(Currently back after a long hiatus - apologies to those I owe chapters and mail too. The plan is to update fictions and continue with a once a week schedule.)

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