When life becomes routine, it is easy to fall into a pattern, a pattern that often brings a sense of false security, because it has been noted that it is the remarkable trait of ordinary people that they can become accustomed to anything. It is said that life is full of hills and valleys, ups and downs, and that these stretches of complacency are to be treasured.
Because there will come a time, in every ordinary person’s life, where that person will have a very bad day. Sometimes, when that day comes, the person will wake up with an underlying dread, a darkness about them that warns them that this will be The Very Bad Day. For others, like Orenda, there is no deviation from normalcy, no feeling of dread, no way of knowing that The Very Bad Day is upon them, and thus no way to prepare oneself to face it.
Everything seemed perfectly ordinary. There were no other humans staying with them, and Orenda had awoken, breakfasted, and spent the morning among the historical records alongside Ellie looking for anything she may find interesting. It had been very humdrum as she sat at one table and Ellie another. Looking over the expanse would show Charles standing at the desk, seeming very bored, and Orenda thought, as she often did, how annoying it must be to stand in a library for hours at a time pretending that you could not read.
Her first inkling that something was wrong, that the day was about to become very bad, came when Charles abandoned his post and came barreling up the stairs toward them.
“Them soldiers is outside again,” He said, hiding his panic well. “I saw them through the windows.”
“Go to the apartment,” Ellie said, looking out towards the door. “Orenda, go with him.”
Orenda nodded and followed Charles down the stairs, keeping time with him.
“I don’t trust this,” he said as he flipped his collar up and took great strides down the hall and toward the apartment, “Something’s wrong. There ain’t nary reason they oughta come back. Ain’t nobody passed through here in a good while.”
“Perhaps that soldier would like to call upon Ellie,” Orenda suggested, “As a gentleman. You know, a gentleman caller.”
“I don’t think so,” Charles walked into the kitchen and slammed a cabinet open, perhaps more forcefully than he had meant to, and Orenda saw the panic behind his eyes, “Susie! Susie! Rendy, go find her.”
He spoke so calmly, the kind of practiced calm that he should not have, that it frightened Orenda and she darted down the hall, throwing open the doors to their rooms.
Susan was in the yard hanging laundry when Orenda found her, humming a song to herself that Orenda had often heard her hum. It was all so painfully normal that Orenda hated to break it apart, but she knew she must.
“Susan,” Orenda said, quietly and calmly, “There are soldiers in the library.”
Susan clipped the dress, one of Ellie’s, Orenda noticed, onto the line before she calmly asked, “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Orenda answered.
“Well,” Susan pressed her lips together, “We can’t have that, can we?”
She grabbed Orenda by the hand, and Orenda wondered why everyone was acting so strangely. It was likely that they wouldn’t come into the apartments, was likely that the soldier was just here to call on Ellie. There was no reason for everyone to be so tense.
“You two should hide,” Orenda told her, “In the trapdoor, in my room.”
“No, it’s past time for that, I’m afraid,” Susan explained, and shoved Orenda into her room, “They know that we’re here. They know that we exist. Gather your things, child, I have to write a note.”
“A note for what?” Orenda asked.
“Gather everything you think you’ll need for a long trip,” Susan told her, “I reckon you might not be back.”
“Where are we going?” Orenda asked, but Susan was gone.
Orenda pulled the blankets off her bed to get to the sheet and began to pile things onto it. She grabbed the book about the fire elves, her Sari, her spare dress, stockings, underthings, apron, the box she kept on her nightstand with her brushes, combs, creams and other toiletries, any loose papers, her box of charcoal, anything that she thought she may need, gathered the sheet together, touched the fire stone in her pocket, and, for good measure, the medallion against her chest, resting under her dress just above her heart. She felt the crisp folds of Gareth’s letter, along with the ribbon and twine, the things she always carried on her- then she folded the sheet, knotted it, and walked into the living room.
Charles was holding a wand. Orenda had never seen it before, but there he was, standing at the counter, mixing herbs together with water, and channeling some kind of magic that Orenda had never seen. It glowed with a soft green light from a stone set in the tip, and he didn’t glance up until it had faded. He had made something in two small vials and walked to the writing desk where Susan was hastily scribbling. He sat it next to her and she quickly stuck it in her pocket. Then he knelt, and took Orenda by the shoulders.
“Orenda Nochdifache,” He said seriously, “Look at me. I want you to remember me.”
“My name is Charles OfVenris. This is Susan OfVenris.” He said with so much weight to his words that it frightened Orenda, “We were trained by Xaxac Brigaddon. We are Knights of Order, and we have trafficked many folks to freedom. Remember our faces, and remember our names. Promise me that.”
“I want you to stay alive, Rendy, and I want you to remember us.” He said, “We love you.”
Orenda did not know what to say to this, but had opened her mouth to try when Susan shoved him aside. She handed a rolled up parchment to Orenda, then spoke.
“Orenda,” she said in the same tone, “Take this, and read it only when you are a safe distance away. Do not let them find you. Stay off the road, stay in the back alleys, travel away from town, in the opposite direction a’ that awful place you come from, until you see the ocean. Go to my closet and take my traveling cloak. Travel only at night, and hide during the day. You’ll arrive in another town, and you have to find the address on this note. Go to the back entrance, and find you a human woman with dark skin and hair, named Bubbider. Tell her who you are and why you come. Tell her that you are walking the path of order, and that you are following the white rabbit.”
“What’s happening?” Orenda asked.
“Go, now, to my wardrobe,” Susan said instead of answering, “take my cloak and go.”
“I want to say goodbye to Ellie,” Orenda protested.
“Rendy please,” Charles snapped, and Orenda had never seen him so angry. While she and Susan had been talking, he had been shoving all the food he could find into a plain sack, and he shoved it at her, “We don’t have time for this!”
Orenda took it and looked up at them.
“I love you, Orenda,” Susan said, “You are the closest I have ever come to having a youngun of my own what lived.”
“I… I love you too,” Orenda admitted, though she did not have the context to know whether or not it was true, but it felt true, and she did not understand what was happening, “Both of you. Thank you.”
She stuck the note into her pocket and ran down the hall to Susan’s room. She pulled open the wardrobe, tossed on the cloak that would be much too big and much too warm, threw the hood over her head, and headed out the back door. She rushed around the back of the library, away from town and stopped as she rounded the corner.
Ellie was standing between two of the soldiers while the one who had rang the bell, the first day, the one who had flirted with her, flipped through pages that Orenda recognized as Ellie’s research.
“Ms. Eletha Venris,” He said, annunciating to the small crowd that had gathered, “You are under arrest for spreading misinformation, crimes against the church, conspiracy to commit treason, conspiracy to commit murder, aiding and abetting the known criminal Captain Nochdifache, and unlawfully altering historical texts to taint the image of our great empire.”
“And theft,” The other soldiers came marching out of the library, guiding Charles and Susan. The one holding Charles kicked him, forcing him to his knees, and jerked his head forward.
“This is OfVahorn, his mark matches Commander Vahorn. Long way from home, aren’t you, boy?” He asked. When Charles didn’t answer, he kicked him again, with so much force that he fell forward and had to catch himself.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Charles said through gritted teeth.
“They’re both branded and neither’s a Venris,” the soldier leading Susan said, “It’s been burned through, but you can make it out. If you look real close.” He left Susan kneeling on the ground and pulled a long tablet from his bag.
“We can do the comparisons later,” The one Orenda thought to be the leader told them.
“You’ve made a mistake,” Ellie said, “This is outrageous. I’m a civil servant. I have collected and archived the history of this region for almost a century. I demand to see the evidence against me.”
“Besides the stolen property?” He asked. “Don’t worry, it’ll all come out during the trial.”
He looked around and said, “Where’s the child? We need to take her into custody.”
“Why?” the soldier behind Susan asked, still looking through his documents, “Do you want her?”
“We can’t just leave her. She’s a child.”
“Well, she wasn’t in there,” One of the soldiers holding Ellie said, “We did the walkthrough.”
“I suppose she’ll turn up,” the leader shrugged.
“I found it,” the soldier behind Ellie announced. “The female is listed as a breeder, and the male-” But he did not finish his sentence, because in the time it took him to say it, Charles had stood, and in one, smooth motion, roundhouse kicked him in the face so hard he went flying backwards.
“Was a cage fighter,” Charles bounced on his feet, and Susan scrambled for hers. “If you fuckers wanna watch me die, step up!”
“Don’t!” Ellie hissed, but Susan had taken the opportunity she had been given and darted into the shocked crowd. She bobbed and weaved through them, running in the wrong direction, towards town, the way she had told Orenda not to go.
“Shit,” the leader growled, and drew his sword. One of the soldiers threw something into the air, grabbed Ellie to keep her from running as well, and the soldier beside him drew a bow and shot it. It exploded into a plume of green smoke, and Orenda heard footsteps stampeding in from the direction Susan had run.
The leader lunged for Charles with his weapon in both hands, but Charles sidestepped him and brought his elbow down over his head with a sickening crack that Orenda felt in her own skull from where she was hiding.
Bopping them on the heads.
More of the adults in uniform shoved their way through the crowd as the man Charles had hit fell on his face. The other two of the original unit were upon them, weapons drawn, and the one who had been restraining Ellie held his bow taut, following the commotion.
“Back off!” he shouted, and the others hopped away as if on instinct, so well synchronized that it shocked Orenda. She had never seen real soldiers fight as a unit before, and it took her a moment to understand what had happened, because the arrow moved faster than she could see. One second it was in the soldier’s bow, and the next, without having moved at all, it was in Charles’s head.
He didn’t seem to register it either, but he must have felt it, because he staggered, stumbled, and said, “I told that bitch I wasn’t going back.”
Then he fell forward, landed hard on his face, and stopped moving.
“Well,” The leader’s voice was still slurred, as if he had not recovered from his injury, “We’ll tell her that we tried. I expect she’s already written it off. Can I get a potion, please? I’ve got a splitting headache.”
One of the other soldiers stepped forward and handed him a vial of green liquid, which he drank in one gulp. He massaged his head where he had been hit, and when he spoke again, his voice had returned to normal.
“As I was saying, Ms. Venris. This misinformation must, of course, be destroyed. You’ll be placed in the custody of the local authorities until that mission is complete, and then I’m sure we’ll all enjoy a nice, long talk on our way to the coast.”
His soldiers passed Ellie to the others, the ones who had come out of the crowd.
“And,” he continued, “We’ll have to find that female, at some point.” He said it as if it was an afterthought, as if Susan didn’t really matter.
Orenda could only see Ellie from the back, but her posture was strange. Ellie normally stood a little slumped, a little drawn into herself, but now she stood tall and her shoulders were squared. The soldiers, the ones that Orenda thought were not local, based on the context they had given, walked into the library.
“Let me see him,” Ellie said to the soldiers guarding her. After they made no move to release her, she continued, “Let me see him. I’m not a mage. I couldn’t help if I was. He’s dead.”
Orenda agreed. He was dead. The blood that had pooled around his head would have drowned him if the arrow had not been enough.
They still made no move, but when Ellie hurled herself away and out of their grips, they also made no move to stop her, besides taking a cursory step closer as she knelt, then sat, then cradled his body. Orenda watched her wrack with sobs, but did not see that she was covering her actions, did not see that she was digging around in his pockets. Too quickly for the soldiers to react, she found the vile he had made, popped the top, threw it back, and drank it.
Orenda thought that perhaps it would make her stronger, or heal her, as the other potion had done for the leader of the soldiers. But it did not. Instead, she tossed it away, and for a moment, it seemed to do nothing.
Then it caused Ellie to be nothing. Orenda watched as the muscles in her body stopped working, stopped supporting her, and though the soldiers who were supposed to be watching her rushed to her side, Ellie was no longer there. It had been a transformation potion, Orenda thought. It had transformed her into a corpse.
Orenda knew what fast acting poisons were. She had read about them. But she had no time to connect those thoughts into one idea, because she felt fire so strongly and was aware of what had happened inside the library before anyone else. She felt the heat, she felt the pulsing fire, and she felt the fire crystals in the medallion over her chest. Orenda pressed both of her hands against the side of the building, and wondered how long it would take the soldiers to get out of the library.
Then she made a decision.
In every ordinary person’s life, they will eventually have a Very Bad Day. And as the fire they had set sprang up in strange patterns, spiraling in ways that no normal fire would, burning so severely over the only two exits that it could not be passed without being cooked alive- as the stone of the building heated like an earthenware oven until the inside began to glow a hot red like a washtub, as the blood in their veins boiled and steamed its way out cooking the meat it touched- the soldiers in the library realized that they were having a Very Bad Day.
They had destroyed the culture of the fire elves, destroyed the record of their existence, and as such, had destroyed any warning they may have had that fire mages existed, or were to be feared. They did not know that they had attacked the long-lost princess, who had inherited a gift from her father that allowed her to channel the innate power within her.
They did not know that anyone who crossed Orenda Nochdifache was setting themselves up to have a Very Bad Day. Orenda had not known this either, but Orenda learned quickly, and would take the lesson to heart.