Ehl 1.7 the three musketeers part 3 fixed


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The peace of the neighborhood is shattered by an earthquake. Meanwhile, Viridia is called in for a consultation, there is teenage angst, and, predictably, a birthday. Oh, and it's fixed.

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  • Last of the indoor (yellowish) Also not it’s original number – none of the ones after this are, but hopefully they’re enough different.
  • Outdoors photos should be dark, but more glow-y, and with a bluer cast.
  • This one needs to be all misty.
  • Ehl 1.7 the three musketeers part 3 fixed

    1. 1.
    2. 2. The sickle moon hung low behind a grey wreath of clouds, shining on the ice that still capped the tops of the mountains and glistening on the spring dew and the rushing streams that spilled down from their heights. It was unseasonably warm, the stars seeming to radiate a peaceful spring heat as well as their muted light through the distant mists that hung over the lake and the valley.<br />Nothing was stirring in Lake Valley besides the bats, and a couple of crickets just tuning up for their first rehearsal of the year. You could cut the silence with a knife and serve it on toast.<br />At least, until the rumbling started.<br />
    3. 3. The clattering of the potted plant on the bedside table was the first thing that Viridia heard when she woke up. As she looked around the room, she noticed a faint yellow cast to the light, as if the very air had thickened. Far off, she heard a low rumbling, like thunder carried far from the lightning which gave it birth. Outside the window, all was dark.<br />Groggily, she wondered why the mattress was bouncing so much when Haldir wasn’t moving at all.<br />
    4. 4. A bold flare of light speared through the window, and she sat bolt upright, jostling Haldir awake in the process. Purple spots danced in front of her eyes, the air was somehow darker than it had been before. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.<br />Her bare feet hit the cold floor before she had time to think, and she automatically started off before her husband had even untangled his legs from their quilt.<br />“Wha…?”<br />
    5. 5. “Get the kids!” she called out as she sprinted for the nursery door, where she could already hear the sniffling, disconsolate whimpers which signaled that Anariel was about to break out into full blown wails. The house creaked around her, sounding as if it were an old man getting up from a long nap and stretching his legs. Even the door quivered on its hinges. <br />They had to get out – the fog outside was threatening, but not as dangerous as the possibility of the house coming down on top of them.<br />
    6. 6. Anariel was still half asleep when Viridia lifted her from her crib, but even the toddler could tell that something was wrong. She struggled, and nearly slipped back through Viridia’s fingers like a minnow.<br />“Not now, Ana,” Viridia whispered, almost afraid to speak loudly, “You’ve got to come with mommy, Okay?”<br />“No!” the tot demanded, piercing the silence just as another crashing rumble filled the air – light seared beyond the windowpanes, and the nursery roof creaked ominously above them.<br />
    7. 7. Viridia pulled the toddler out of her crib halfway through her protestation. There was a bright flare of light, followed by utter darkness. Ana wiggled, and nearly slipped through her mother’s hands. For a sickening moment, Viridia’s hands were empty before she caught her youngest daughter beneath the armpits. The toddler began to cry, but all Viridia could think about as she hoisted Ana to a safer position and sprinted through the nursery door was the painful, wrenching beat of her heart as she saw, over and over again, the second where she failed to catch the baby – where her youngest child was swallowed up by the darkness.<br />
    8. 8. The deck was cold as Haldir’s racing feet covered the distance towards the next door in what seemed like a few leaping strides. He stumbled when the distant rumble and the spearing light shook his bones, but was running too fast to stop, slamming his feet rhythmically into the cold boards in time with his heartbeat until he charged into the nearest door.<br />
    9. 9. Ara was already sitting up and swinging her feet out of bed, alarmed at the flickering outside of her window, but not yet fully awake.<br />“Dad, what - ?” she asked groggily, swiping at her eyes with one hand.<br />“No time. Get outside,” he ordered.<br />“But what’s –”<br />“Out!” the accompanying creaking of the roof above them as the distant rumble rose once more seemed to emphasize his urgency, and her candle rocked, flickering, on its stand. Aranel scrambled from her bed and out the door after her father as the light gave a final flicker and extinguished itself completely.<br />
    10. 10. Despite his own urgency, and the ominous flickering of the light, Haldir had no choice but to bend down and slowly shake his son awake. Achenar was clearly dreaming, his eyes flickering back and forth beneath their lids – or was that just the light? The fern on his bedside table clattered and was still, giving way to the silence and the high, scraping swing of one of Aranel’s early paintings rocking back and forth on its wire.<br />“Wake up, Achenar!” Haldir said, though not too loudly, shaking his son by the elbow, “Wake up! We need to get out now!”<br />It took a moment, but the boy’s fingers moved across the pillow in response.<br />
    11. 11. Unceremoniously, Haldir seized his forearms and dragged him to a sitting position, where Achenar slowly opened his eyes.<br />“Wake up!” Aranel exclaimed unnecessarily, from behind Haldir’s shoulder. He jumped when he heard her voice.<br />“Did I not tell you to go outside?” Haldir asked sternly. Unfortunately, the rest of anything he might have had to say was lost in a tremendous roll of thunder, followed by a small, sharp crash somewhere in the house.<br />Achenar’s eyes flew open, and Aranel grabbed her little brother’s hand as the three of them fled the room.<br />
    12. 12. The haze enfolded the five so thickly as they all bolted towards the relative safety of open ground that they had to slow to a walk, or risk falling down the deck stairs. Overhead, the lights flashed and writhed, and occasionally the clouds spewed a crescendo of thunder, but not a drop of moisture fell from the sky. Though the air was warm, the ground beneath their feet was cold and damp with dew. <br />Anariel was crying in her mother’s arms, and Achenar squeezed his sister’s hand tightly. Haldir followed closely behind, keeping a wary eye on the skies.<br />
    13. 13. Once they reached the ground, the five of them resumed running again, sprinting for the middle of the yard as the house creaked alarmingly behind them. Haldir had to call out a warning to Aranel, who was dragging Achenar along with her so fast that Viridia, burdened with Anariel, couldn’t keep up. The fog rolled in, separating the two oldest children for a second from their parents, and Viridia gave an inarticulate cry of horror as they seemed to disappear. Anariel began to fuss in her mother’s vise-like grip.<br />
    14. 14. Aranel stopped in the center of the yard, and allowed Haldir and Viridia to catch up. Though the ground beneath them still rumbled like the sky above, the mist was lifting away, and the flashes of light that had previously filtered through it, fighting their way down to the ground, were revealed as rippling, blazing curtains of light.<br />The family, huddled close together, sat on the still-quivering lawn and gaped upward in amazement and horror as the most terribly beautiful thing that they had ever seen tore the sky apart.<br />
    15. 15.
    16. 16. As soon as the sky returned to normal and the last rumbles faded away into the distance, Viridia dashed into the kitchen and picked up the phone. It took her three tries to dial the number, because her hands were shaking, no matter how often she told herself that everything was going to be fine.<br />Nothing changed the ugly truth: it could have been worse. Why were those words intended to be comforting? All that they ever did was remind her of the fear, of the uncertainty, because when someone left and was no longer there, how were you supposed to sleep at night, not knowing if they were safe? The immediate danger was over, but still she had to know.<br />Her family, her panicked mind was beginning to accept, was safe. But what about her friends?<br />
    17. 17. The sea was still crashing loudly against the rocks, though not so loudly that Chalimyra didn’t hear the phone ringing. She snatched it up immediately, leaving Talon to sit with the children. Elirand shivered when his mother left, and listened miserably to the howling of the wind. After looking over at Calla to see if she was bothered by the storm, he wrapped his arms around his knees tightly. The storm was too big, too loud – he wished it would all go away.<br />“Hello?” Chalimyra said loudly over the storm winds. “Yes, it’s me – Viridia? Calm down, it’s just hard to hear you over the storm.”<br />
    18. 18. “Yes, of course we’re all right. The ground’s stopped shaking – that freaked us out a little – and there’s still far too much mist blowing through. We’re having clouds and wind, mostly, some scattered raindrops.”<br />She paced back and forth for a minute, listening. “No, we haven’t been outside. We could see some weird lightning from here, though.”<br />There was a pause, “Yes, we should call Elu. Though she’s probably hidden away in her basement working on some project. I’m sure Elu’s basement is as safe as anywhere else right now.”<br />Viridia’s response was so loud that the twins and Talon could hear it through the phone. Chalimyra had to hold the phone away from her ear.<br />
    19. 19. “Safe! How can you just assume that? Chali, anything could be happening out there and we wouldn’t even know! Her basement could flood, or her roof could fall in while she’s asleep, or…”<br />She was cut off from the other end, and as Aranel and Achenar peeped into the room, she burst out, “Don’t tell me to calm down! You’re not even being serious about this Chali! I know it’s Elu, but she lives alone, there’s no one there to help her if something went wrong! She might not even be home, she could be coming back from somewhere, and I just know the roads are a mess after all of that…”<br />
    20. 20. Talon could tell that Viridia was continuing on without end, even though her shouts had stopped being audible from where he and his children sat, because Chalimyra made a face and turned partially away before answering. <br />“All right, I never said it would be a bad idea. Just, for the Green Ones’ sake, collect yourself before you call her.”<br />There was a veritable explosion from the other end.<br />“Viridia, listen to me!” Chalimyra commanded, “Every time you get yourself worked up about something, you end up having a fight with Eluisa. You’re just yelling at her – and at me – about something that you can’t control.”<br />There was silence on the other end until Chalimyra hung up the phone. <br />
    21. 21. Viridia was staring blankly ahead as she counted the rings.<br />“Rrriiing.” One. Please pick up. Can you hear this? Are you all right?<br />“Rrriiing.” Two. Don’t make me wait here, Elu. I need to know that everyone’s fine.<br />“Rrriiing.” Three. Elu, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have fought with you the last time I saw you, I was so angry but I can’t have you leave me, I can’t have anything happen to anyone else, don’t you know that bad things happen when people leave, they never come back…<br />“The number you have reached is not available. Please hang up and try again.”<br />
    22. 22. With a sigh, Viridia slowly placed the phone back on its stand. She knew that her family was staring at her, but she needed another moment. They were safe – yes, they were safe, and that was what she kept telling herself to still her racing heart. But she couldn’t be sure. She couldn’t be sure, because the ones who left didn’t always come back. Even if they were Eluisa.<br />This place was supposed to be safe. No one could hurt them here.<br />Of course she worried. If anything happened – if she lost anyone again – she didn’t know what she’d do.<br />
    23. 23. She turned around and attempted a smile.<br />“Your aunt Eluisa’s probably still asleep,” she offered as a weak explanation to appease her children’s curious looks. She was surprised, however, to see Aranel’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.<br />“Ara, sweetie, what’s…”<br />Achenar was gaping like a fish – Haldir had noticed by now and the look on his face was one of utter horror.<br />Viridia looked around quickly, then looked down, searching.<br />“Mom, your eyes changed color!” Aranel blurted out suddenly.<br />
    24. 24. Unthinkingly, Viridia raised her hand to her face. <br />“Changed…color?” she repeated disbelievingly. Nothing felt different, but how could you feel the color of your own eyes?<br />“They’re brown,” Achenar put in helpfully, as Aranel dragged her towards the mirror. Viridia followed her oldest daughter, bemused, then gasped and gripped the edges of the glass as she saw.<br />Her green eyes had turned brown.<br />Haldir flinched and turned away: Anariel began to cry.<br />
    25. 25. “It’s not that far, Ana. Come here, come to your mama.”<br />The toddler looked around uncertainly, as if she expected the ground to begin to lurch again. Even Viridia’s most coaxing voice couldn’t erase the tot’s slight frown of worry.<br />Viridia sighed. Ana hadn’t cried during the earthquake, but it had taken her nearly half an hour to calm down after Aranel had noticed the change in Viridia’s eyes. Even now, she didn’t look directly at her mother’s face.<br />At least she’s standing now, Viridia reminded herself, still straining to catch her youngest daughter’s still green eyes.<br />
    26. 26. She had checked all of the children’s eyes, fearing that they, too, would have changed. Aranel had brushed her concern away, saying “I’m tall enough to look in the mirror myself, mom.” Achenar and Ana had made it into a game, adding “green” and “eye” to the ever-increasing list of words that Anariel could pronounce.<br />“What color are my eyes, Ana?”<br />“’Enar eyes daddy-green!”<br />Indeed, Viridia had never been so thankful that all three of her children had inherited Haldir’s light green eyes, rather than her own darker ones. If anything ever happened to them…<br />She didn’t know what she would do.<br />
    27. 27. “Mommy catch?” Aranel’s tiny voice brought Viridia quickly out of her reverie.<br />“Yes, Mommy catch,” she replied quickly, smiling at her daughter. Perhaps it was the return of the smile that made Aranel look her in the face again as she wobbled forward, waving her miniature arms. At the last moment, she pitched forward, throwing herself into her mother’s arms.<br />
    28. 28. “That’s it!” she exclaimed, lifting Anariel into the air, “You’ve done it! Mommy catch Ana!”<br />The toddler giggled and kicked her feet. “Mommy catch Ana!” she parroted, “Mommy catch lights?”<br />The smile slowly disappeared from Viridia’s face. Ana’s lip trembled as she watched it vanish. She put out a hand and tugged on a piece of Viridia’s hair.<br />“Mommy eyes green?” she asked by way of apology, patting her mother’s cheek, “Mommy eyes Ana green?”<br />Viridia settled her on one hip and walked purposefully towards the nursery. “Let’s get you dressed to play with Nanny.” She blinked rapidly.<br />
    29. 29. No sooner had Viridia dressed the toddler and changed her own clothes than the telephone rang.<br />“Hello, Elvensong household,” she began, before being interrupted by a familiar voice.<br />“Viridia, are you there? It’s Rose – Rose Greenman. You remember me and my daughter Daisy, don’t you?”<br />“Yes, of course,” Viridia replied, confused, “but --”<br />“Well, I didn’t like the idea of asking you,” Rose continued, “Only, after all the news on the radio and TV last night, that people might experience changes…”<br />
    30. 30. The bottom dropped out of Viridia’s stomach.<br />“Changes?” she asked, unsure of whether she wanted to hear the answer or not.<br />“Yes, well… I’m not sure if they have anything to do with the earthquake or not,” Rose replied hesitantly, “Jason thinks we should ask a doctor, but I don’t… well, it isn’t something that an ordinary doctor would know. It’s about Daisy. And who knows more about children than a teacher? So, could you… I mean, would you come to our house this afternoon? It’s only that I don’t know who else to ask, and I’m afraid --”<br />“Of course.” <br /> * * *<br />
    31. 31. To say that the combined middle and high school was the biggest building that Aranel had ever seen would be an understatement. As the chattering crowds parted around her, she found herself walking slowly and looking up, anticipation wrestling with nerves in the pit of her stomach. Then she grinned: this was it.<br />Unaware of the strange looks that she was receiving from her classmates, she followed the milling crowd towards the front door, feeling only a slight jealousy at the fact that most of the other girls were wearing jeans and t-shirts. A number of them were also wearing seriously short skirts.<br />
    32. 32. However, although she searched the crowd eagerly for familiar faces – keeping in mind that some people had undoubtedly changed their hair upon becoming a teenager – she didn’t recognize anyone. Of course, since there were so many people, she was certain that she’d find all her old acquaintances once she reached the middle school classes. Relatively certain.<br />Despite the newly printed schedule she held in her hand, she was still uncertain about which direction her homeroom class was in, so she ducked out of the flow of traffic and leaned against a pillar to check. <br />Upon finding that 151 b still made no sense to her, she let out a huge sigh.<br />
    33. 33. That was when she heard them.<br />“Look, we go through this every few years Meadow: how ditzy can you be? We always get the same homeroom when we cycle back.”<br />The blonde girl wearing bright pink leggings and boots shrugged and said something that Aranel couldn’t quite catch. <br />“Of course I felt the shift,” the tall girl with hair buns replied, “but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re townie teens and that the first day of school hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. Or the fact that the warning bell’s already rang.”<br />
    34. 34. Whatever the warning bell was, it didn’t sound too good, so Aranel turned around quickly and almost ran into the girl behind her.<br />“Oops!” the other girl giggled, “Didn’t see you there. I’m Amber – Amber Dawn if you want to get technical.”<br />“Aranel Elvensong,” relieved to have found a friendly face, she held her paper out and continued, “You wouldn’t happen to know where room 151 B is?”<br />Amber Dawn broke into a grin. “New this year, are you?”<br />“Yeah,” Aranel admitted reluctantly, “What grade are you in?”<br />“The same one as you,” Amber replied, “Junior High.” She looked as if she were on the verge of saying something, but then she looked up at the clock. “Wow! Come on – we’ve got to get to homeroom !”<br />
    35. 35. Aranel followed the girl as she swiftly walked towards the knot of three girls that were still talking by the doors, and said something about “The Schnoz,” which caused them to immediately start marching down the hall, past the floor-length windows interspersed with trophies.<br />The girls up ahead were still chattering, the two short-skirted blondes apparently deeply immersed in an ongoing argument, Amber and the tall girl with hair buns volunteering a few words now and then, but mostly ignoring them.<br />Under her breath, Aranel sighed. They had obviously forgotten about her.<br />
    36. 36. Though she wanted to say something to the giggling group, she didn’t know who they were talking about, and asking for an explanation seemed unutterably lame. So she stared at the trophies they passed and listened in instead.<br />“Tosha, for the last time, even if you seriously bolt Orlando, he is not going to go steady with you. Ever.”<br />“It’s no fair!”<br />“Tosha, Meadow, I’m telling you both: things don’t change, regardless of those weird lights in the sky last night. And wishing on them is not going to help at all, Meadow.”<br />
    37. 37. “Okay,” Amber piped up before anyone could reply, “Here’s the door. Oh, and Aranel, you can sit behind me – I don’t think anyone else is going to.”<br />Wondering how she could possibly know where people were going to sit – and why the five of them were the first people in the classroom if they were supposedly almost late – Aranel took the seat behind Amber with a frown. She glanced around the room and found that Meadow was already talking animatedly to a boy with a buzz cut and another blonde in a purple vest. <br />“Hey Amber,” she said, “is this school entirely populated by blondes or something?”<br />
    38. 38. “Hey, you calling us stupid?” Amber replied, turning around to face the elf, “I’m not too dumb to remember I’m a blonde too, Ginger, so watch your mouth.” she added teasingly. <br />Aranel smiled, and Amber grinned back at her before the teacher arrived and the class began to sit down and shut up. Turning to open her own notebook, she gazed out at the class, feeling supremely satisfied with herself.<br />She was certain that by lunch, she and Nymea would be surrounded by friends.<br />
    39. 39. Speaking of zoos…<br />The first day of elementary school was a crayon colored blur. There were faces, names, and new-smelling textbooks, and shoes that squeaked. By recess, the twins and Achenar had discussed every moment of the night before with nearly every child in the class. Not all of them had seen the lights, but all of them had felt the earth shake. The other children were suitably impressed when the twins told them that the rocks on their beach had all shifted during the night.<br />
    40. 40. Recess Montage?<br />By the end of recess, the remarks of the other children about the three’s “funny” clothes and ears had all but disappeared. <br />“Hey, guys!” Elirand called as he dropped from the monkey bars a full minute after the bell had rang, “Wait for me!”<br />Calla and Achenar were already walking towards the door, along with the vast majority of the other children. <br />“Hurry up or we won’t get a good table for lunch!” Calla called over her shoulder, not even slowing down.<br />Elirand grumbled to himself for a moment that his own twin should at least wait for him, but then he dashed forward to catch up. <br />
    41. 41. “… and then we can go swimming at the beach, if they won’t let us go hiking,” Calla was still chattering three minutes later when they sat themselves at a table in the cafeteria, “Though our dad says he wants to check out the rocks that have shifted and make sure they’re still safe.”<br />Achenar was looking at her intently. “But what about -” he dropped his voice to a near whisper, just to be safe, “That place out on the point? You know, our secret one?”<br />Elirand shrugged. “The coast is all stirred up,” he informed Achenar, “It’s probably not even there anymore.”<br />
    42. 42. He felt a little bad when Achenar’s shoulders suddenly drooped, but Achenar was already turning to Calla for reassurance. <br />“You think that it could really be gone?” he asked her quietly.<br />“Well…” she hesitated, “I don’t know. Like Elirand said, all the rocks are stirred up, the coast looks completely different. But just because it looks different doesn’t mean it’s not still there.”<br />“We should go down there and check, then,” Achenar replied, becoming a little more animated, “Then we’d know for sure.”<br />
    43. 43. Just then, their table was called to walk through the lunch line.<br />“Come home with us on the bus then,” Calanthe told Achenar as she got up and pushed in her chair, “your parents won’t mind.”<br />“Yeah,” he agreed, “Mom won’t be home for at least an hour after we get out – I’ll just call home when we get there, because Aranel’s supposed to be in charge of me after school.”<br />
    44. 44. Elirand sighed. He’d already had a look from the workshop window, and was fairly certain that the rocks which had previously protected the little spit of sand that they had claimed as their own were lying in a jumbled mess along the coastline. <br />Not to mention, Calla and Achenar had just gotten up and left him again. Would it kill them to wait up?<br />He scrambled after them, not bothering to push his chair in neatly.<br />
    45. 45. Upon arriving at the counter, all three of them were stymied by the selection. Their meal choices appeared to be brown mush, green mush, or grayish mush. <br />All of it was limp and eminently unappetizing. <br />“What was it, do you think?” Calla whispered to the other two. <br />“Dinosaur puke,” Elirand whispered back. He got himself an elbow in the ribs from his twin, but Achenar looked worried. Elirand made a face at him behind Calla’s back. <br />
    46. 46. Achenar poked at his plate with a fork. “Do you think it’s a vegetable?” he asked tentatively. <br />“Gopher guts,” Elirand replied with his mouth full, “I’m pretty sure its dyed gopher guts.”<br />Achenar dropped his fork. He was just too easy to wind up. <br />“It is not,” Calla intervened, “It’s stewed broccoli.”<br />“Says you,” Elirand shot back.<br />“It is too,” Calla argued back.<br />
    47. 47. “It is not!”<br />“Don’t be stupid, it’s a vegetable.”<br />“How do you know it’s a vegetable?”<br />Achenar sighed. Once the twins got going, all hope of logic or rationality was lost. He picked at his vegetable and wondered what it had actually been before it had been boiled and when they’d give up and stop arguing. <br />“Then you can have some!” Elirand exclaimed, grabbing a handful and lobbing it directly into Calla’s face.<br />
    48. 48. It landed with a splat, rocking Calla back in her chair.<br />Achenar’s eyes went wide as he scanned the cafeteria for adults. “Guys! We could really get in trouble for that!”<br />Elirand was laughing too loud to hear him – judging by the volume of Calanthe’s giggles, she was neither hurt nor offended by her brother’s food missile, though she had a piece of broccoli stuck in the ends of her hair. <br />Achenar made one more attempt to return them to sanity, “What if someone sees? We’ll all go to the principal’s office!”<br />
    49. 49. “Lighten up, ‘Enar,” Calla replied, slinging a fistful of mush in his direction. “You shouldn’t worry so much.”<br />Elirand just laughed as Achenar attempted to wipe the vegetable off his face with his sleeve. It was every bit as nasty on his face as it had looked on the plate. <br />Any reply he might have made was drowned out by a shout from the next table over. <br />“Awesome! Food fight!”<br />The entire cafeteria took that as their cue to erupt into chaos. <br />
    50. 50.
    51. 51. “Haldir?” Eluisa’s voice was crackly over the phone. The connection into Lake Valley had never been exactly good, but the storm last night must have taken down more of the phone lines than he’d thought. <br />“Yes, it’s me,” he replied, “Viridia couldn’t call you last night –”<br />“The phones went down at my house halfway through a call,” Eluisa replied ruefully.<br />
    52. 52. “We figured it was something like that. It was an odd storm though: not much damage, even outside, despite all the shaking.”<br />There was a laugh on the other end. “You’re lucky you don’t live on the beach, then,” Eluisa replied, “My whole coastline’s been rearranged, and so has Talon’s. All the boulders shifted around in the night, he says. Top that off with all the seaweed I had to rake out of the flowers that just spontaneously started blooming, weather from the storm or because they finally realized it’s spring –”<br />“The boulders shifted?” Haldir interrupted, gripping the phone tighter than was necessary.<br />
    53. 53. “Yes – impossibly shifted,” Eluisa replied, “The waves just couldn’t have been that strong… Why? Did something strange happen on your lot?”<br />If Haldir gripped the phone any tighter, it would shatter. “Yes and no,” he replied. There was a waiting silence on the other end. “Viridia’s eyes are no longer green.”<br />He could almost hear Eluisa’s frown as she replied “What do you mean, no longer green?”<br />“Sometime during the night, they turned brown.”<br />
    54. 54. “… Oh.”<br />The tension was going to burst open any second now, his thought’s racing around in a frenzied stampede, until guilt trampled all over them. Why Viridia? <br />“You don’t know of anyone… else having their eye color changed, do you?” he asked hesitantly, afraid of the answer.<br />“Talon and I have the official report here at the Elkthorn Inn,” Eluisa replied. There was a rustling of paper. “It says to report unusual behavior, changes in aspiration, nausea, migraine, sudden drops in energy or increases in hunger… the list goes on, including something about reporting lamps dropped off on doorsteps and any instances of conjuring, but there’s nothing about changing genetics.”<br />
    55. 55. Haldir nodded, not remembering that Eluisa couldn’t see him through the phone. He also didn’t notice his other hand, clenching the countertop so hard that his knuckles turned white. Why Viridia? Was there something wrong again, somewhere inside that he couldn’t see, let alone fix? She was supposed to be safe now!<br />“…something different, maybe?”<br />Eluisa had been talking for a while before he caught any of the words, Haldir realized. “I… I don’t know,” he admitted , “Do you know if…” he stopped, unable to continue.<br />
    56. 56. “You mean, is she sick again?” Eluisa asked.<br />“… yes,” Haldir finally managed to whisper.<br />“Apart from the eyes, does she look different? Act different? Does she have any symptoms from the last time?”<br />“No. At least, I don’t think…”<br />“Keep an eye on her, but if she doesn’t seem sick or confused, she’ll probably be fine eventually,” Eluisa replied crisply, “In the mean time –”<br />“You mean, her eyes will go back to normal?” Haldir asked instantly, “How? Is there anything… can it be fixed?”<br />From the other end there came a long, rattling sigh. “I don’t know, Haldir.”<br />
    57. 57. “What do you mean, you can’t tell me?” Aranel demanded, “You have all the student records right there on your computer. All you need to do is tell me whether or not Nymea Greenleaf is enrolled here. Easy, peasy.”<br />“That information is off-limits to students,” the secretary replied primly. <br />Aranel, who had been drumming her fingers on the wall, curled them into a fist. It was already lunch, and she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Nymea all day. For the first two class periods, she had brushed it aside, assuming that their schedules must have been different. Now, however, after not finding her best friend in the cafeteria, she had begun to worry. <br />
    58. 58. “Look,” she said, inventing quickly, “Nymea’s my ride home, so if she’s sick or something and couldn’t come, I need to know so I can call my mom and she can pick me up.”<br />“That information is off-limits to students as well,” the secretary replied pedantically, “Besides, why would you arrange to carpool with someone if you weren’t certain whether or not they were enrolled at the school?”<br />Aranel inwardly cursed the secretary’s surprising astuteness. She hadn’t thought that the secretary was paying attention at all. And now that the secretary knew she’d made at least one story up, she wasn’t going to get the information out of her by lying.<br />
    59. 59. “Look,” she said, “I’m just worried about my friend. Is there anything that you can tell me?” she smiled disarmingly. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work. <br />“No, I’m sorry but all student information at Riverblossom County Public High School is confidential,” the secretary replied, though with a glimmer of sympathy, “Why don’t you go ask your friends at lunch?”<br />“Stupid air-headed secretary,” Aranel grumbled under her breath as she turned away.<br />The secretary also appeared to have excellent hearing. “I can also point you towards detention, if you’d rather go there,” she said pointedly.<br /> * * *<br />
    60. 60. “Would you rather have me explain, Rose?” Jason Greenman asked his wife after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.<br />She shook her head. “No, I… well, I just can’t believe I haven’t been seeing it for so long. It’s hard to think that your child…Well.”<br />“Did Daisy go outside during the earthquake?” Viridia prodded as gently as she could.<br />Jason chuckled a little. “No, the five of us hid in the bathtub. Riverblossom Hills has never had an earthquake before – all they’ve ever told us on the news is what to do in case of a twister. It wasn’t much of an earthquake here: the only things that broke were a couple of my grandmother’s dishes.”<br />
    61. 61. “If not the earthquake, then what…?”<br />“Daisy’s always been special,” Rose began with a smile that crinkled the edges of her sad eyes, “When I had her, we had begun to think that we couldn’t have children together. Fortunately for us, that isn’t a problem any more.”<br />Viridia nodded to herself, remembering that not very long ago, a pink sign saying “It’s a girl!” had announced to the residents of Riverblossom that the Greenman household had a new baby named Azalea, along with their son Briar, who was only a little older than Anariel.<br />
    62. 62. “Daisy was a happy toddler. She learned to walk and talk quickly, loved to play her xylophone, adored meeting new people. But by the time her birthday rolled around, we noticed that she was still talking the way she had when she first learned how.<br />“We didn’t think it would be a problem – we used her baby talk so much that perhaps she hadn’t seen the need for anything more complex. We assumed that she’d grow out of it, especially now that she was old enough to play with other children.<br />
    63. 63. “We didn’t worry too much. What with one thing and another, she wasn’t going to be a toddler for long, and we had something else to be excited about. We finally knew for sure that we would have another baby.<br />
    64. 64. “In fact, it wasn’t until Briar grew into a toddler that we began to suspect that anything was unusual.”<br />There was a long silence as Viridia waited for Rose to continue. Rose, obviously distressed, began to pluck at the fabric of her pants until Jason put out a hand to stop her.<br />“Daisy loves Briar,” he put in, “She spends most of her time playing with him, speaking in gibberish, singing songs to him –”<br />Rose gave a weak laugh. “She’d cart him around like a doll all day if I didn’t stop her.”<br />
    65. 65. Viridia smiled ruefully. She couldn’t imagine Aranel carrying Ana all around the house, or even trying to play with her. Achenar, maybe, but not Ana. Come to think of it, wasn’t Daisy just a little bit older than Ara?<br />“That’s not the only thing, though,” Jason interjected, “We’ve been making a list of things that don’t seem to be quite right for her age.”<br />“We don’t mind that she does them, exactly,” Rose put in quickly, “Only we’re worried that it might mean she’s not…”<br />“Not quite normal?” Viridia asked as gently as she could. Rose and Jason nodded quickly.<br />
    66. 66. “Daisy loves a lot of things,” Rose began hesitantly, “especially the water. I’ve seen her slide into our pool forty or fifty times in one afternoon, just getting out and doing it again every time, exactly the same way.<br />“She’s very single minded while she does it, and she doesn’t pay attention to anyone or anything else. I think the swimming should be good for her, but after she’s done it for a while I usually go out and send her over to the garden, or inside. Sometimes she doesn’t notice that I’m there until I stand in front of the slide ladder.”<br />
    67. 67. “She talks to the trees,” Jason put in.<br />“No, that’s normal,” Rose objected, “It helps them grow.”<br />“I’ll believe that when you let me prove it,” Jason grumbled, “You won’t let me run a proper experiment…”<br />“You wouldn’t know the right things to say,” Rose replied with a smile, “And besides, it wouldn’t be a proper experiment because all of the trees are different species.”<br />“All right,” Jason conceded, “Talking to trees is a family madness. But that doesn’t change the fact that Daisy talks to them in her own gibberish language, the one she uses when she sings to herself. Then she seems to expect them to answer.”<br />
    68. 68. “Do they, I wonder?” Rose mused.<br />“Briar does. She changed the words to the nursery rhyme Rose has taught him - what were the words, Rose?”<br />Rose thought for a moment before reciting:<br />“I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bearBut a silver nutmeg and a golden pear.The King of Spain's daughter came to visit me,And all for the sake of my little nut tree.I skipped over water, I danced over sea,And all the birds in the air couldn't catch me.”<br />
    69. 69. “Well, that’s not how Briar sings it any more. He like’s Daisy’s version better… something about a purple flower in the woods.” Jason shook his head, “It doesn’t make any sense to me, but it does to them, I guess.”<br />“She has special names for everything,” Rose explained, “She calls Briar sprout-dollie, Jason nose-nose, and me greema. Baby Azalea’s probably doomed to be known as Zae-zae all her life.<br />“But what worries me more than anything else is that she doesn’t seem to recognize that the babies aren’t dolls. When she feels like it, she’s always trying to race ahead of me so that she can take care of them first, but I can’t leave her alone in the house to watch them for fear that she’ll forget.”<br />
    70. 70. “Day or night, sometimes she just wanders off and I have to look for her. Most of the time I find her in the pool, or talking to the trees, or stomping in puddles –”<br />Jason turned to Rose. “Is that why the dining room floor’s been wet the past few nights?” <br />“Yes, but don’t scold her for it – she didn’t realize her shoes were wet.”<br />“Oh, I’ve just been debating whether or not we should call the repairman. I thought we had a leaky pipe in the ceiling.”<br />
    71. 71. “We can deal with trails of rainwater,” Rose continued, “but every day I get more and more worried about the things that Daisy doesn’t seem to understand. Besides the fact that she has no concept of time, and can’t ever concentrate on anything but what she’s doing at the moment, I can’t help but wonder how much she understands of what’s going on outside the family. Or even inside it. Even though she knew Jason had been gone all night even after I explained to her that he doesn’t have to work the night beat anymore, her reaction to Jason’s abduction surprised me.<br />
    72. 72. “Abduction?” Viridia interrupted, hastily racking her brains for anything she might have heard about it.<br />Jason’s face formed a halfhearted smile, while Rose looked down at the arm of the sofa.<br />“We had a minor incident the night before the earthquake,” Rose explained quietly. Jason’s smile grew even more fixed.<br />“I see,” Viridia replied, though she really didn’t. “If you wouldn’t mind explaining…?”<br />
    73. 73. “I was nearly certain that I had discovered a new star,” Jason replied stiffly. “It had been in the sky for a few nights, and I wanted to be the first person to document it, so I was compiling my notes. <br />“I was absentminded, I suppose. I’d been promoted earlier in the day, so I was able to observe the star properly during the earlier hours of the evening, which had been impossible the past few nights because I was working my beat. In fact, I was so absorbed in my work that I didn’t notice the spotlight until after my feet began to leave the ground.”<br />
    74. 74. At Viridia’s incredulous look, Jason cleared his throat and attempted to make himself more clear. “I speculate that the aliens use a beam that attracts either organic molecules or living cells, rather than the more traditional hypothesis that they use antigravity or tractor beams. My telescope was not affected. In any case, it is not an experience I wish to repeat. I was gone for several hours and remember nothing further than passing the roofline on my way up. In addition, my sense of taste seems to have been affected, since I barely finished eating my peanut butter and pickle sandwich before you came.”<br />
    75. 75. Viridia shuddered, but politely attempted to hide her disgust. Fortunately, the couple before her was no longer paying attention.<br />“What about that beautiful cheesecake I made yesterday morning?” Rose said, “You told me that was the only thing you wanted when you got back, and it took me hours to make!”<br />“Well, I wanted it then, and it still sounds good now, but for some reason I had an urge to experiment with sandwiches. Mustard greatly enhances the spreadability of peanut butter, but you need pickles to help mellow the contrast between the two… Speaking of cheesecake, is there any left?”<br />
    76. 76. “No, you ate nearly a third of it for lunch and almost as much again for dinner. There were two pieces left, and Daisy wanted to try some this morning. You know how picky she is about food –”<br />“Did she like it?”<br />“I’m not sure: I came down from getting Briar’s room ready and found out that she’d left it uncovered on the counter and wandered off somewhere again. By the time I found her, it looked like it had been sitting out for two or three hours and had gone bad, so I didn’t bring it up because then she’d want to finish it.”<br />
    77. 77. “Aaaw. I thought it would go good with some trout and some pretzels… Not together!” he added hastily when Viridia could no longer conceal the look of disgust on her face, “I wanted to grill the trout for dinner, and instead of rice we could have pretzel sticks –”<br />“I’ve already cooked,” Rose put in hastily, “There’s plenty of things for Briar’s birthday dinner, so you can have cake then.” She turned to Viridia. “You will stay for Briar’s birthday, won’t you?”<br />Thinking fast, Viridia changed the subject. “How is he doing? I keep forgetting that he’s only a little older than Anariel.”<br />“Would you like to see him?” Rose offered immediately.<br />
    78. 78. Viridia breathed a sigh of relief. As soon as Rose returned, she busied herself by playing with the toddler. Though initially shy, he warmed up to the game quickly, and as far as Viridia could tell, seemed to be a fairly normal toddler. He spoke well, and was interested in everything, though occasionally he’d yell out a nonsense word that Rose would have to translate. <br />“Wheer-Whoop!” he exclaimed when his fire truck was brought out, though he’d been perfectly willing to repeat “Fire Tuck,” when his mother had asked him about it. There were other words, Viridia noticed, that he obviously knew, even though he intermittently used more gibberish words in their place. In fact, he seemed to be able to tell who understood his gibberish and who didn’t.<br />“Jabwok!” he cried when Viridia pulled her hands away from her face for the tenth time.<br />“That’s what Daisy says,” Rose told him, “What does daddy say?’<br />“Boo!”<br />
    79. 79. “Well,” Viridia concluded twenty minutes later, as the three adults watched the toddler contentedly stacking blocks, “It certainly doesn’t seem that anything’s wrong with Briar.”<br />“What about Azalea?” Rose asked immediately. Then, as she settled her weight to one side, she asked in a quieter voice, “What about the new baby?”<br />Viridia paused a moment before answering. “I won’t be able to tell anything about Azalea until she becomes a toddler. But from what you’ve said, Briar’s already past the point where Daisy began to have problems. I’d say he’s all ready to go to school once he ages up.”<br />
    80. 80. “In fact, judging by what he’s been building, I’d say that he’s more than ready. In fact, he may be a little above average.”<br />The toddler gave out a high pitched giggle as he smashed his hand into the tower and scattered blocks in all directions. His parents looked on fondly as he proceeded to mash the blocks that remained upright until they were all sprawled upon the table.<br />“I’ve been thinking of homeschooling him,” Rose said, “It wouldn’t do for Daisy to miss him during the day.”<br />
    81. 81. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Viridia put in, “Even if you’ve been homeschooling Daisy, children need socialization. They have to learn to get along with people their own age outside of their family if they’re going to be ready to go out into the world some day. Also, the public school system out here in the country is in some ways better than the one in the city: It may not have all of the new methods and technology, but it’s a much safer and more personal environment for children, especially the ones in elementary school. The teachers there have expertise in many different subject areas, including child psychology.”<br />
    82. 82. Rose bit her lip. “But what if the other children make fun of how he talks?”<br />“Don’t worry about that,” Viridia reassured her, “lots of kids start school with strange speech patterns, and most of them loose them on their own as soon as they start interacting with other kids. If he still has problems, he can see a speech therapist.”<br />The door closed with a thump, and Viridia looked up.<br />Her first thought was that Rose had somehow left the room and was coming back inside, but she realized a moment after that, despite their obvious similarities, such as their green skin and leafy hair, Daisy looked very little like her mother. It had to be Daisy, yet she looked like an adult and was walking with a skip, holding on to the edges of her skirt.<br />
    83. 83. Without so much as glancing at Viridia or her parents, Daisy flopped down next to Briar and began to sort through the crayons.<br />Briar contemplated where to put his next block, and all was silent for a long moment.<br />“My sprout-dollie builds with buildy-blocks,” Daisy announced to no one in particular, selecting the red crayon.<br />“Blocks!” Briar agreed happily, “Daisy help Briar?”<br />“No, Daisy’s going to scribble-draw.” She leaned in conspiratorially, “Daisy’s going to scribble-draw on Briar.”<br />
    84. 84. “Draw on paper, not Briar,” the toddler replied, beginning to throw all of his green and blue blocks into the bin. Daisy pulled a pen out and stuck it between two of her fingers.<br />“I’ll scribble-draw on your buildy-blocks.”<br />“No! They’re my blocks!”<br />“They’re apply red already. It didn’t matter if Daisy scribble-draws on the buildy-blocks.”<br />“My blocks!” Briar repeated adamantly, “Draw on your own blocks! Meanie Greenie!”<br />
    85. 85. Rose was about to intervene, but Viridia signaled for her to be quiet and approached the table. Daisy was already sulking, jabbing the tip of her pen at the edge of the table, and didn’t seem to notice her at all.<br />“Daisy?” Viridia asked. Then, getting no reply, she asked more loudly. “Daisy, I’m Viridia. Do you remember me? I knew you when you were a little tiny toddler.”<br />Daisy appeared not to hear any of it.<br />
    86. 86. After a second or two of silence, Daisy prodded Briar with her pen cap. “Is sprout-dollie angry? Sprout-dollie shouldn’t be angry at green-green.”<br />The tot appeared to think about it. “Not angry. Don’ draw on my blocks.”<br />“If I don’t scribble-draw on the buildy-blocks, can I play with you?”<br />Briar nodded seriously. “Take green ones.”<br />At that point, Viridia tried again. “Daisy, can I help you build? Tell me what you’re going to build, Daisy.”<br />Reluctantly, Daisy turned her head a little, but she still didn’t look at Viridia. “Building a plant house.”<br />“All right. Can I help you build your plant house?”<br />“No. It’s only for me and my sprout-dollie.”<br />
    87. 87. Daisy turned back to the activity table and started pointing at block after block, choosing which one she would use. Briar began to lay the green ones out in a row, then the blue ones, and then the red.<br />Silently, Viridia got up, leaving brother and sister to lay out their blocks together. Though she could feel Jason and Rose’s eyes on her, she wasn’t sure what she was going to say. <br />Not yet, at least.<br />
    88. 88. She wasn’t given a chance to get her thoughts together. Rose approached her immediately, and, seeing Viridia’s expression, her face fell. <br />“It’s pretty bad, isn’t it?” she asked. Viridia only nodded.<br />“She grew too fast for normal school,” Rose added by way of explanation, “She went straight from being a toddler to being as tall as me. But in her heart, she’s still a child…”<br />Viridia nodded again. “I haven’t seen anything like this at school, but my recommendation is to continue homeschooling her, make her learn things and make sure she interacts with people outside her immediate family. Socializing seems to be one of her bigger issues.”<br />
    89. 89. “What’s wrong with her?” Jason asked bluntly. “Can we do anything about it?”<br />Viridia hesitated a minute before answering. “There’s a lot of different things you can try, but she’s never going to wake up in the morning and suddenly be ‘better.’ This is part of her, and you’re going to have to work through it.”<br />There was a moment of awkward silence. “Perhaps it would be best if you thought of her as being only a year or two older than Briar,” Viridia finally suggested, “She might stay this same age, mentally, for the rest of her life. Or she might grow at a slower rate, and always seem to be a little older than Briar. I don’t know. What I do know is that you’re going to have to work with her. The chances of any of your other children being the same way are slim, but you’re going to have to work with them, too.<br />
    90. 90. “I’m sorry to bring you bad news,” Viridia finished. “I’ll contact the child psychologist at the school board, and ask for her recommendation, so you can get a professional’s advice.”<br />“You’re not staying for Briar’s birthday party?” Rose asked sadly, “I… well, I don’t want Briar to miss out on his special day, regardless of what else is happening. Besides, I made enough for five and I kind of feel like we owe you some hospitality, after making you come all the way out here.”<br />Viridia stood, not knowing what to say.<br />“Jason hasn’t touched a crumb of it yet,” Rose added, attempting to lighten the conversation.<br />
    91. 91. Viridia thought about her own children, who had been home from school for hours now. On the one hand, she didn’t like to leave them alone any longer than necessary, even though nanny Lisa was there. No, Haldir should have come home by now – she’d left him a message asking him to try to come home as early as he could in case she was over at the Greenmans’ for a long time. She ran through the list of things that she needed to do at home, and had to admit that Haldir was perfectly capable of reheating spaghetti. Aranel was more than old enough to help with her brother and sister, and Achenar knew by now to be careful with the knives when it was his turn to wash the dishes. She knew that they could do without her for a little while longer, but hated to admit it to herself.<br />What if something happened? What if there was another earthquake? Just thinking about it, she raised her hand to her face, but stopped before she could get close to her now-brown eyes. That didn’t matter. She’d gotten Ana outside, and despite all the odds her family was fine. They were safe. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.<br />
    92. 92. Rather than looking at Rose, Viridia glanced at Jason – or rather, the side of his head, as he’d already turned away. Was she intruding? Was Rose only being polite? An hour ago, the two of them had been so close, their fingers intertwined on the couch, secure in the strength of their own family. Now they weren’t even looking at each other, as if now that what they had strived for was gone, the gap between them was too deep to bridge.<br />Viridia nodded. The two of them, she decided, might not be up for a party. But she shouldn’t just leave them alone with their grief. After all, they’d just lost their daughter.<br />“Yes,” she said, “It’s only five thirty. I think I can stick around long enough to watch Briar transition.”<br /> * * *<br />
    93. 93. “Hello, may I speak to Nymea, please?”<br />There was a moment’s pause on the other end before Nymea took the phone.<br />“Ny, are you all right?” Aranel asked immediately, “You haven’t been in school in the last few days – I called yesterday, but no one must have been home. Did you get my message?”<br />There was an irritable sigh on the other end, “How many times am I going to have to tell you that we are too old for stupid nicknames, Aranel? No, I did not get your message, and yes, I am fine.”<br />
    94. 94. “Is something wrong with your answering machine? And why weren’t you at school? When you come, you’re going to have a ton of make-up work – and you need to meet the girls who eat lunch with me, they’re pretty cool. I think they’ll fit really well with our plan.”<br />“What are you talking about? I’ve been in school every day, and I haven’t seen you or the band-geek lamers who eat lunch with you. As a matter of fact, I should be asking you why you haven’t showed up.”<br />“But I’ve been there every day!” Aranel protested. “I even went to see the office about it, but the secretary told me that ‘all student information at Riverblossom County Public High School is confidential’ and nearly sent me to detention!”<br />
    95. 95. “Wait, did you say Public School?” Nymea asked.<br />“Yeah, why?”<br />“I don’t go to that school,” Nymea replied.<br />“What do you mean, you don’t go?” exclaimed Aranel in frustration.<br />“Well, I go the private high school.”<br />“Then…”<br />“Well, I assumed you would too, and you never said that you weren’t.”<br />For perhaps the first time in her life, Aranel was speechless as she experienced a sinking sensation deep in the pit of her stomach.<br />
    96. 96. “Next customer – Oh,” Eluisa looked up. “Hi, Viridia. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”<br />The two women hadn’t seen each other since their argument at Aranel’s birthday party. Nor had they spoken – though at one point, they both had made it a policy to speak to their former housemates at least every other day.<br />“Yes, it has been a while,” Viridia replied stiffly. If Eluisa wasn’t going to refer to the reason for that, she wouldn’t either. <br />“Well… how are the kids?” Eluisa asked, searching for a safe subject as desperately as the correct keys on her register. She was almost certain that a modern register would have been easier, but apparently they were easier to break into. Judging by the amount of trouble she was suddenly having with this one, they just might be.<br />
    97. 97. “…Good. They’re good,” Viridia replied vaguely. “Straight A’s.”<br />“That’s good,” Eluisa replied, not knowing what else to say.<br />“Haldir told me that all the rocks on your beach shifted overnight,” Viridia said, after a moment of silence, “And that your phone went down.”<br />Eluisa looked up, directly into her friend’s now-brown eyes, and experienced a deep shiver that she attempted to hide. No wonder Haldir had been concerned – the effect of those dark brown eyes which she knew should be green was disconcerting.<br />
    98. 98. “I... I heard that things were… turbulent over at your place too,” Eluisa managed, though she couldn’t help but stare at Viridia’s changed eyes.<br />“You mean because my eyes changed?” Viridia asked directly. Eluisa could only nod. “Haldir is convinced that it’s because of the shift,” Viridia continued with a tense shrug. “I keep waking up in the morning and getting taken by surprise when someone else’s eyes are staring out of the mirror at me,” she admitted.<br />“It must have been terrifying,” Eluisa breathed.<br />Viridia shook her head. “No. Hearing the house rock around me and thinking it might fall down on us all before I could get my children out was scary. So was not knowing whether my friends were alive or dead.” <br />
    99. 99. Eluisa looked down at her cash register and pushed the last button in silence. For a long moment both of them stood there in an uncomfortable state of suspension, each of them waiting for the other to speak, wondering if they should be the one to break the silence, to apologize and say that they had been wrong. <br />But how would they begin? Was it enough to say that they had been wrong, when neither really believed that? The same argument, over and over – didn’t the fact that they kept having it prove that it would never end, not unless something changed.<br />The next customer in line coughed and tapped their foot impatiently, and Viridia took her purchase and turned away, leaving everything unsaid.<br />
    100. 100. The incident still weighed heavily on Eluisa’s mind as she crossed the road to the Elkthorn’s house after Talon closed up the shop. However, she put it all out of her mind at least far enough to give Chalimyra a genuine smile. <br />As Chali returned the smile, Eluisa’s mind flickered back over her afternoon. How had she ended up in the middle, trying and failing to mediate between two of her best friends? For that matter, how had Chali managed to avoid it?<br />Eluisa knew that she wasn’t doing a very good job of pretending that everything was fine. Her smile was about to crack and fall off when she reached the sidewalk. Still, Chalimyra didn’t mention it. Chali didn’t jump to conclusions – In fact, Eluisa wasn’t certain if she had conclusions.<br />
    101. 101. That may have been part of the reason that Eluisa was surprised by Chalimyra’s statement.<br />“Elu, I think that you should take me with you the next time you go to see Midina.”<br />“Wait… What?” Eluisa replied faintly.<br />“Well, I thought it would be best if she knew that she isn’t alone in all of this… and that her friends aren’t going to pass judgment on how she’s decided to live her life, or anything that might have happened to her in the meantime.” Chalimyra shrugged, “Anyhow, it’s been a few days... I couldn’t help overhearing you at the party. I’d call her, but you haven’t exactly been handing out her number.”<br />“The entire party heard that, didn’t they?” Eluisa asked ruefully.<br />
    102. 102. “Talon and Haldir heard. I don’t think any of the kids did – they looked a little preoccupied.”<br />Eluisa glanced over to where Chali’s twins were occupied discussing something intently with Achenar and intermittently pestering an innocent passerby, and chuckled.<br />“Anyhow,” Chalimyra added, “I have some stuff from when the twins were toddlers – and since she has a boy and a girl, it’s perfect. I’m not going to use them again.”<br />“Two’s enough for you then?” Eluisa asked with a smirk.<br />Chalimyra raised her eyebrows and glanced knowingly over, encompassing the antics of both her offspring with one wry glance. “Two is plenty.”<br />Both women dissolved into laughter.<br />
    103. 103. “You’re certain it’s still there?” Achenar asked anxiously as the three of them set off towards the beach. <br />“Of course it is,” Elirand replied impatiently, “Calla and I checked it out yesterday, and even though the rocks have moved around, there’s still all that sand under them sticking out into the lake. Maybe even more now.”<br />“But… Is it safe?”<br />“Dad says that however the rocks shifted, right now you couldn’t move them with two teams of horses,” Calla supplied, staring up at a strange bird that had perched itself in the tree above her head. “Elirand, Achenar, have you seen that kind of bird before?”<br />Elirand snorted “Have we seen a live bird before?”<br />
    104. 104. By the time that the three of them reached the beach, they had unanimously decided that, since none of them had ever seen a bird before outside of their schoolbooks, they must not have been there before – and that, most likely, the shift had brought them about. <br />“It’s like it’s been taking things apart and putting them back together strangely,” Achenar remarked, when they saw the damage done to the once – secluded spit of land where they had all played not so long before. <br />
    105. 105. “Yeah, and the way it’s put back together stinks,” Elirand complained as he kicked at a patch of seaweed. “It’s not even secret anymore! You can see it from the window in dad’s workshop!”<br />The seaweed flopped limply, as if in agreement. <br />“Well, we can always find a new secret place,” Achenar put in.<br />“Oh yeah? Like where?” Elirand challenged him.<br />“Um… I don’t know,” Achenar admitted sheepishly, “but maybe if we look for one we might find one.”<br />Elirand kicked the seaweed once again for good measure. <br />
    106. 106. “If we sit so that the one tall rock is in between us and the house, I think we can stay hidden,” Calla offered to break the moody silence between the two boys. It took a moment before both of them nodded and shuffled along the spit of sand pointing out lake ward.<br />Calla sighed. Would the two of them ever stop arguing? She couldn’t understand why they always had to challenge each other – or, at the very least, why Elirand always had to challenge Achenar, and Achenar always had to give him the opportunity. In fact, if she didn’t know better, she would have thought that they liked it. <br />
    107. 107. “All right,” she said, once all three of them had judged themselves to be sufficiently hidden from sight – at least from the upper windows of the twins’ house. “I call this meeting of the three Musketeers to order.” <br />“Who says you’re in charge?” Elirand grumbled, picking at the sand beneath his knees and throwing a small pebble into the water. Achenar shushed him, and he eventually shut up.<br />Calanthe rolled her eyes at both of them, secretly glad that they had returned to their usual base level of picking at each other mutually. “The first thing we need to do is find a new secret meeting spot…”<br /> * * *<br />
    108. 108. “Mom! Do you know how I can get into private school?” Aranel asked, immediately after bursting into the room, “Because I need to get in pretty much immediately.”<br />Viridia blinked, surprised. “But why do you need to get into private school?” she asked, confused.<br />“Mom, all my friends are in private school,” Ara replied, exasperated, “Nobody goes to public school. Absolutely nobody – I haven’t found any of the kids from grade school there, and Nymea goes to the private school, and…”<br />
    109. 109. “Honey, this is a really big decision,” Viridia replied when she could get a word in edgewise, “are you sure you don’t want to think about it for a few more days?”<br />“Of course not! I’m loosing time right now! If I don’t get in as soon as possible, I’m going to be a complete nobody over there. Everyone will have friends already, and everybody knows that it’s always the new kid who’s the odd one out.”<br />“Ara, how could that possibly be true?” Viridia said, “No matter how many times you change schools, people will accept you for who you are.”<br />
    110. 110. “See, that’s exactly the kind of… You’ve never been in a high-school, Mom! You don’t know what it’s like in there. You have to be someone great or know someone great if you want to get anywhere.”<br />Viridia sighed, “Honey…”<br />“Mom, you just don’t get it! I don’t have any friends in public school – have you seen anyone ride home on the bus with me? I don’t think so! If I don’t get into private school with Nymea, my teenage years are going to be one great big giant ball of suctasticness.”<br />“Ara, I don’t know where you learned that word…”<br />
    111. 111. “Public school,” Aranel spat bitterly.<br />“Well I don’t want to hear you use it again. Do you understand?”<br />“Yeah, sure.”<br />“Getting you into private school is a big decision, Ara. Your father and I will discuss it, but first we need to know more about the school –”<br />“Just ask Nymea’s parents.”<br />“We will consider it, but first –”<br />“But what, Mom? Come on – I’ll get my transcript from the school office, you can fill out the paperwork, and I can be going to private school with my friends in a couple of days.”<br />
    112. 112. “Aranel, you can’t just go rushing into this –”<br />“Why not?”<br />“Because when a family is making decisions of this magnitude, there are a lot of different things that need to be considered. How much is it going to cost to send you to this private school –”<br />“I’ll apply for scholarships – I can win!”<br />“…What its reputation is like –”<br />“Stop stalling, Mom!”<br />“Aranel Elbereth Elvensong, you will speak to me in a respectful tone of voice!” Viridia didn’t realize that she had been raising her voice over each of her daughter's protests until the windows shook with her shout.<br />“Fine. I’ll go to my room then while you plot to ruin my life,” Aranel snapped, and marched out the doors, leaving her mother speechless.<br />
    113. 113. Haldir found her sitting on the porch, staring into the pond, and sat down beside her.<br />“Am I really that bad of a mother?” she asked into the silence.<br />“No, you’re not,” Haldir replied instantly, “Look, we’ve gotten this far, haven’t we?”<br />She raised an eyebrow at him.<br />“Ara will be fine,” he assured her, “Patience has never been one of her virtues.”<br />Viridia’s lips twitched. “No, it hasn’t,” she agreed, “but I can’t help but feel horrible – this is the first time I’ve ever argued with her.”<br />
    114. 114. “Are you certain that all this guilt is really about arguing with Ara?”<br />Viridia played with her sleeve. “No. It’s about everything, really… I just can’t help but wonder if they would have been safer in Elphemerea. Logically, I know that if I had stayed, I wouldn’t have met you, our children wouldn’t have been born... And that Elphemerea is dangerous. But at least we would have been prepared for the dangers – we were supposed to be safe here, but everything is so unknown. And soon enough Ana will be going off to school, then Achenar will become a teen, then Ara will leave us and go to college…” she sighed. “Even though I know that every birthday is a good thing, it seems as if the farther they get away from me, the harder it will be for me to protect them.”<br />
    115. 115. Haldir looked thoughtful for a moment. “It seems like private school means a lot to her,” he said. “And it could help all three of them get scholarships for college.”<br />“I know, I know,” Viridia replied disconsolately, “And I feel like a horrible monster for making her think we’re going to say no.”<br />“Are we going to say no?”<br />“Well, I have to look into the school’s reputation… honestly, we can probably afford it, even for all three of them. I know some of them have discounted tuition for the younger siblings when all of them go to the same school. Everything depends on the reputation of the school: some of them aren’t as serious, academically, as others. But I couldn’t say yes and then go back on my word.”<br />
    116. 116. Viridia sighed. “It’s just hard not knowing what to expect. I don’t want that for Ara or any of them. But at the same time… people shouldn’t have to fight with their families. If anything ever happened…”<br />Over and over again, the flash of light and her suddenly empty hands played through her mind. Who knew when her children would slip through her fingers and be lost?<br />Haldir reached over and squeezed her hand. “I hear it’s easier if you let them go – at least far enough to stretch their wings, that is. When things change, you have to save what you still have.”<br /> * * *<br />
    117. 117. At first, Chalimyra was certain that this couldn’t be the place. It wasn’t because it was a slightly dirty old tenement in a definitely dingy part of town. Or because the windows stared blankly at her, dusty and cracked. It certainly wasn’t just the fact that she would wager that the entire apartment could fit into her kitchen and living room at home. No. It was all of these things, everything combined to remind her painfully of where she and Elu had met Midina in the first place – except that time, Viridia had been there as well.<br />The absence of the third member of their group didn’t seem to bode well.<br />
    118. 118. Almost the second the doorbell rang, Midina popped open the door and launched herself into Chalimyra’s arms. <br />“I’m so happy you came!” she exclaimed, once she had backed out of her friend’s hair far enough to speak intelligibly, “It’s Orion’s birthday, and Makir and I were beginning to wonder if we were going to have to eat the whole cake ourselves.”<br />“It’s only five o clock, you know,” Eluisa said dryly.<br />“I said ‘beginning to wonder,’ didn’t I?” Midina shot back, “We were just being prepared to slice it up if you didn’t make it.”<br />
    119. 119. Soon enough, Chalimyra found herself being introduced to Makir, and a small blonde bundle which had to belong to Midina. She thought that Orion must take after his mother, but supposed that as he grew, they might be able to see more of his father’s features. The baby happily grabbed at any hair or nose that came near his tiny fists.<br />Though Chalimyra had never been as sentimental about babies as Viridia was – though she had thought that her own twins were adorable at every stage, she couldn’t help but feel relief at the knowledge that they were now old enough not to need constant watching – she gurgled at the baby with the rest of them.<br />
    120. 120. Meanwhile, Eluisa had drifted over towards the toddler, who had glommed onto her skirt from the moment she’d stepped in the door.<br />“Spider song, Aunnie Elu! Spider song!” she demanded. And so Elu had faithfully launched into a rendition of “The itsy-bitsy spider,” complete with hand motions. She even stuck around for two encores while Chali and Makir made small talk and Midina dashed around getting extra napkins and plates, beaming all the time.<br />“How many times have you been over here?” Chalimyra finally asked Eluisa during a lull in the singing.<br />“Oh, quite a few,” Eluisa replied vaguely, getting up off her knees and brushing them down, “Enough that Lydia should know the spider song by now.”<br />
    121. 121. Though there were only the five of them gathered around the cake, applause was enthusiastic as Makir carried Orion up to the cake. Lydia stomped about and clapped her hands, while everyone else made as much noise as possible.Even when Chalimyra appeared to be determined to back into the walls of the tiny kitchen as many times as was possible in one evening.<br />Lydia sang loudest in their five part chorus of the birthday song.<br />
    122. 122. Chalimyra had to say that both of Midina’s babies were adorable – and that it looked like they’d be very close in years to come.<br />While Lydia bossed her younger brother about, telling him how to play with her toys, all four adults had some time to catch up. Eluisa filled Midina in on events in Lake Valley and Riverblossom Hills, Chalimyra taking over whenever Eluisa forgot something. They spent a happy half-hour discussing the fact that Rose and Jason Greenman were both due any rotation, and speculating on what a baby from an alien abduction might look like. Makir was quiet at first, but before long he was joining in and chattering with the rest of them.<br />He and Eluisa eventually began a political debate, leaving Midi and Chali alone.<br />
    123. 123. “Your son is adorable,” Chalimyra told her friend, “And his daddy is a wonderful man.”<br />She didn’t understand why Midina’s face suddenly fell. She was about to ask why, but the expression was gone before she could be certain that it had been there.<br />“Yes… Makir is,” Midina replied quietly. <br />Chalimyra somehow got the feeling that the subject was closed, so she continued brightly. “I have some old things of the twins’ that I thought you might like.”<br />“Chali…” Midina protested, “I couldn’t possibly…”<br />“Nonsense,” Chalimyra replied airily, “They’ve grown out of them and they’re just sitting in the attic. Besides, what are friends for?”<br /> * * *<br />
    124. 124. “You’re going to end it there?”<br />Actually, yes, Chali, I am. <br />*Dun dun dun*<br />First off, this update took waaaay longer than expected. School eats life, life eats school, yada yada giant stomach aches all around. Fortunately, I actually have part of the next rotation played, so while I can’t promise you when the next update will be, it won’t be another four months.<br />Well, five, technically, if you remember that my last “update” was actually me fixing my abominable spelling and grammar from waaay back when the first three chapters were posted on the exchange. <br />So, if you’re still here, thanks for your patience (or, if you’re a recent reader, your free time,) since everyone on LJ and on boolprop has been lovely to me as I started college, wrote term papers, and all that other real-life stuff. Plan C was to get this out by the anniversary of my joining boolprop, but I’m exactly a month late on that. Oops.<br />
    125. 125. Disclaimer<br />I did not intend for Daisy Greenman to represent or parody autism or asperger syndrome in any way. Now that I look back, having written the chapter, there are some behavioral similarities, but I have not intended to make light of a serious condition. In fact, I hope that, having read this, simmers remember that all forms of autism are very real disabilities that effect many families worldwide, and aren’t confined to movies such as Rain Man.<br /> As usual, I have attempted to have characters react realistically to a situation which is not very realistic outside of the sims: Daisy transitioning straight from toddler to adult. I would also like to thank for the words to “I had a little nut tree.”<br />
    126. 126. And this is the first time that I’ve gimped pictures excessively for a chapter. They didn’t all turn out the same (I should have written down what I did to the first batch) but given that the lighting was supposed to be off because of the storm, I don’t much mind. And I learned a whole ton of fun stuff to do with gimp!<br />As a further note, Viridia’s eyes were the inspiration for about half of this chapter. Why? Well, I installed AL and FT, and at the same time was warned that I was running out of disc space. Since I’d rather keep my build and buy items, which are all lovely, and I knew I had a lot of useless or unused stuff in body shop, I went in and did a complete re-haul of that.<br />I happened to have two copies of Viridia’s eyes. The one that I deleted just had to be the one that she was using at the time. Then, I went in with SimPE and fixed the cursed CC redheaded gene, after much toil.<br />In the picture on the left, you can see that Viridia’s eyes are brown – they returned to default when I yanked the relevant cc. On the right, her eyes are green again.<br />
    127. 127. However, I had a weird glitch which meant that, though the genes were correct, Viridia was showing up in-game looking like this. Lovely, but inconsistent. Oh, and every time I sent her to a mirror or the salon chair, my game crashed and burned. (Was able to change appearances of other sims, both in the same ‘hood and out.) Second time was the charm, though – she’s back to her normal green-eyed self. <br />So… game threw me angst, but I made it work, I hope. <br />
    128. 128. I also made an auxiliary neighborhood for staging, where half of Aranel’s birthday party in the previous chapter was shot, as well as the earthquake scenes in this one. However, because I was stupid and didn’t just create a backup with everyone settled, this made me recreate the legacy house from the ground up. And it just didn’t look right without Aranel’s paintings (not that anyone but me could tell, but hey.)<br />Rest assured, however, that the real sims experience nothing like the angst that I portray them as having. This pretty much sums up the “actors’” lives in the auxiliary neighborhood. (And the real ‘hood, now that I think of it.)<br />