He can’t be dead. He has the ring. Check again! Check again, damn you!
One of the medics stood up, he was a middle-aged black man with the darkest brown skin Sib had ever seen. “How did you find him?” he asked the mage standing behind Sib. “Was it the trace?”
Sib heard the ferns rustle as she walked around to stand on the other side of the body. “The trace was busted when the devourers ate the core of Spellhold,” she said. “We bugged the kid and his friends.”
My dad was safe...I led them right to him. The mage came into Sib’s field of vision and he saw who it was.
Miss Knox! She was the one that planted the tracer coins on us... His mind raced back and he now realized that she had also trashed their lounge. She must have made herself look like the woman in black to do it… And now she murdered my father! Sib’s hate for her boiled inside to the point where he felt he was going to burst.
“I guess you can get rid of the bugs now,” said another of the medics. Her hood was up, but Sib could tell she was albino with pale eyes. She was crying.
“Yes,” Miss Knox replied. She pointed her wand up into the air and muttered a spell that Sib didn’t recognize.
He felt something moving on the back of his neck. No...it's inside the back of my neck. A small creature dug out of his skin where the knot was, crawled a few steps and then dropped to the ground. Sib mentally shuddered at the sensation.
“We’ll take care of the kid and the body,” said another of the medics - a young hispanic man with a scar across his chin.
Sib saw the red welts and blood on his arm. He must have been the one holding me back. I hate you too.
“See that you do,” Miss Knox said and motioned for the MACUSA mages to leave.
“Pluma,” a fourth mage called. He was a young man with a cleft lip and a spotty mustache. He picked up Sib with one hand and carried him horizontally as two other medics carried his father. Sib could only see up into the sky and the branches above. They began walking through the woods along the bottom of the ravine, their robes whispering as they brushed through the undergrowth.
Sib heard popping all around them as the MACUSA mages disapparated and then noticed a sudden burst of orange in the branches above. The oriole landed on a branch nearby and started chirping. It’s matin’ season. It doesn’t care that pa is dead. I wish I was a bird.
Sib could see the four medics in his peripheral vision as they walked. The man with the cleft lip was carrying him on his left. The hispanic man was walking on the right and the albino woman and the black man were behind, carrying his father’s body.
“Have they gone?” the albino woman asked, wiping the tears from her face.
“Yes,” the dark man responded.
The hispanic medic pulled out his wand. “They always creep me out,” he said. “It’s like they enjoy killing people. Expecto patronum.” There was a flash of white light. “Tell her they are both secured.” Sib saw a small ghostly cat-like creature bound up the side of the ravine they were in and disappear over the edge. The hispanic man stopped walking for a moment and waited for the black man to catch up. “Can you do something about this?” he asked. “He scratched the bejeesus out of me.”
You deserved it.
“Sure,” the black man replied. “Episkey.” He turned to the albino woman. “I'm sorry it had to turn out this way, Winnie," he said.
"I know Christopher. It's just so sad. I wish I could have saved him.”
“Can I have this?” the hispanic man said, pointing to Sib’s father’s body.
“You heartless bastard,” Winnie yelled at him. “All you can think about is claiming the reward!”
“Well, is anyone else going to do it?” There was silence.
Sib was seething. I will find you and I will tear your guts out…
“Here,” Christopher said, picking up a rock from the ground. “Can you make this look like him?”
“Of course. But he might not look as good as that.”
“It will be good enough for our purposes.”
What are you talkin’ about? What are you gonna do with my pa’s body? Are you gonna try to claim the reward twice?
“What do we do about him?” Winnie asked, pointing to Sib. “He shouldn’t have seen any of this.”
“No mission ever goes according to plan,” the man with the cleft lip said.
“Should we alter his memory?” the hispanic man asked. “We could obliviate this whole thing.”
“No,” Christopher responded. “It would just make it harder for him later.”
“Why can’t we just tell him?” Winnie asked.
“We must be careful,” the man with the cleft lip said. “You never know who’s listening.” He looked down and Sib could see those unmistakable grey eyes. It’s her! The Wendigo!
She has to be behind this! She planned on breaking my dad out so she could collect on the reward money after he was killed!
“I think he should sleep for a while,” the Wendigo said. “...until things are more clear.” She lifted her wand and pointed it at him. “Pax requiem,” she cast and Sib knew no more.
Sib opened his eyes. I know this place… He was staring on the spot on the ceiling of his bedroom that looked like the constellation of the big dipper. He sat up and looked around. The soft light of early morning bathed the walls.
Morning? My window faces west. What time is it? Who put me in my pajamas? He crawled from his bed and dressed himself. Where was I last?
Then he remembered. The Wendigo... .
“You’re awake,” his mom said as he emerged. “The NMMC medics said we should let you sleep, but I was starting to get worried. It’s been more than twenty-four hours.”
“He’s dead,” said Sib.
His mom set down the dish she was putting away. “Sure he is,” she said and walked over to give him a hug. She whispered in his ear. “Come outside and take a walk with me.”
He pushed her away. “Where’s pa’s body?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “At the hospital?”
“You mean you don’t even know where his body is? Who claimed the reward?”
“For killin’ pa! Jesus, ma! The Wendigo has been behind the whole thing!”
“Sib,” she pleaded. “Just calm down.”
Arc came in the front door. “What’s goin’ on?”
“What’s goin’ on?” hollered Sib. “Dad was setup by the Wendigo! She planned the whole thing from the beginnin’!”
“Sib, listen,” his brother said. “I really think it would be good for you to take a walk right now. Go blow off some steam in the woods.”
“Take a walk in the woods?!” He was incredulous. “What is the matter with you two?”
“Sib, please,” his mother said.
“Dad is dead and the two of you are acting like everything is fine! You want me to go somewhere? Well, I’ll tell you where you can go...you can both go to hell!” He stormed to the fireplace and grabbed a handful of floo powder. The container tipped off of the mantle and smashed on the floor, scattering dust everywhere. He didn’t care. He thought of somewhere he could be alone. “Gampton Hall!” he shouted.
He emerged in the gallery. The last light of day was fading in the west and all of the paintings on the wall had already started sleeping. He walked quietly to the stairs. He climbed them in the increasing murkiness, not wanting to cast ‘lumos’. I want it dark.
He walked down the hall toward the Pathfinder lounge. He had a bone to pick with the Orenda.
“What’s afoot?” called Henry from his frame. His pegasus was in the background grazing. He started following Sib from frame to frame down the hallway. “Are the British assaulting our shores once again? Shall I call the minutemen?”
“Cram it, Henry,” said Sib.
“Fine,” he replied. “See if I give you any warning next time…” He faded away as Sib reached the archway.
“Andaste!” he called. The gateway glowed blue and he stepped inside. He walked through the lounge and out into the grove. Night had set in and the stars gleamed overhead. His mind was a jumbled mess of thoughts.
It’s not like I can go to MACUSA for help... Why did I ever help her in the first place by takin’ those devourers? She tricked me. I led Miss Knox right to my dad. Why didn’t I figure out she had a trace on me? What about the vision?
The vision… He was furious at the Orenda. “What did you do!” he yelled at them as he walked into the circle of stones. “I trusted you! I listened to you! I accepted you, and this is what you give me in return!”
He kicked one of the stones as hard as he could and pain shot halfway up his leg. He fell to the ground and held it, rocking back and forth, wincing.
“You knew how I would interpret that vision!” he yelled from the ground. “You knew he was going to die!” He started crying. “What the hell did you want me to learn from this!”
“Not all is as it appears,” a voice spoke, breaking the momentary silence.
Sib turned to see the Hunter standing on the opposite side of the pool from him. “What?” he asked, wiping his face with his shirt.
“I will tell you what the Orenda showed me.” He pulled the giant longbow from his shoulder and leaned on it like it was a staff. “They gave me a vision that showed me standing in ashes, screaming my victory song to be heard by the Great Spirit. I stood among the ruins of my enemies and I was victorious over them.”
“But you weren’t,” Sib said. “Damien Bones burned down the whole school.”
He nodded. “The ashes were my tribe. The song was my sorrow. And I learned…”
“What did you learn?”
“That in my pride, I forgot my duty. I have now been given a second chance by the Orenda. I shall not forget again.”
“So what does that have to do with me?”
“Not all is as it appears.”
“I watched them murder my father!” Sib yelled as the ghost faded from view. “Are you sayin’ I didn’t see the spells hit him? That I didn’t see him die right in front of my face?” He called after the Hunter into the night. “I know what I saw!”
He got up and hobbled around the pool. “What the hell do you know? You’ve been dead for two hundred and fifty years.”
In other circumstances, Sib would have thought it was a beautiful night. The sky was crystal clear and the twinkling stars were reflected in the calm water of the pool in the center of the circle. He couldn’t enjoy the beauty. The world was an ugly place full of hate and greed and hurt and unfairness and trickery and death…
He sat down and put his back against one of the stones. He was looking directly above the sky stone and the North Star was just above the top. He stared into the night. Miss Pyx said that people can see the future in the stars. All I see is the cold, dead blackness in between…
He sat in that spot, unmoving, while the sky spun around the North Star. It was all his fault; it was the Wendigo’s fault; it was Knox’s fault; it was MACUSA’s fault; it was all his fault. He cried and then hated; schemed, plotted revenge and then cried again.
“The Hunter told me to find you here,” Incheon said as he walked into the circle of stones. He looked at Sib. “You alright?”
Sib looked up. It was morning. Did I sleep? He shook his head at Incheon’s question. No, I am not alright…
“You want to talk about it?” Sib shook his head again. “Do you care if I talk?”
I don’t care about anything.
“I’ll take your complete lack of response as an emphatic ‘yes’,” Incheon said and sat down with his back to the stone to Sib’s right. “How’s your neck? I guess brain-eating beetles wasn’t far off after all. The next time I have a stiff neck, I’m going straight to Mrs. Praecuro to have that sucker removed.” Incheon reached up and rubbed his neck, shivering in recollection. “As bad as cucumbers…”
“Did anyone tell you about what happened after you flashed me?” Sib didn’t respond. “Thanks for that, by the way. Although I wish someone had described it to me out loud so that I could remember every detail.” He sighed.
“Anyway, we started heading down the stairway and Lef, in her infinite clumsiness, stumbles on the steep slope of the stairs and falls into Hendershot, who drops Ursula. But, since she weighed as much as a feather, she started floating down the stairway like a sinking balloon, just out of reach of Hendershot, who kept jumping in the air to catch her. Well, she woke up in mid-air and started growling and swiping her claws at us, and Hendershot is freaking out, protecting us, and trying to figure out what to do as she drifted further down the stairwell.”
“Just below us were the two frozen werewolves that the short MACUSA mage had zapped and Hendershot unfroze them, asked them to help, and then reversed the pluma spell on Ursula. Did you know that werebears are afraid of werewolves?”
“So then the werewolves frightened her down the stairs and we were running down following them because Hendershot told us we had to get out of the prison before it moved. Also, did you know the prison moved every day?”
“Anyway, we made the last corner, sprinted through the landing and the cellblock and out into the visitor’s area, only to find Ursula lying on the ground with two other dorky-looking guys helping her up. Hendershot screams at them to get out and we all started booking it for the exit. We bust out into that cave that Quinta made and literally a second later, the whole thing vanishes. ‘Poof’.” Incheon made a little exploding motion with his hands.
“Did you know Ursula and Hendershot were a thing?”
I think so...I remember them bein’ close last year before she had to disappear.
“Well, there was this whole lovey-dovey reunion thing in the cave. Hendershot told her who he was, she starts complaining about his appearance and then she kisses him flat-out like she hadn’t seen him in a thousand years. She looked at all of us and was confused until Hendershot told her who we were. She told us he was the best illusionist in the country...hands down; could make a dragon look like a puppy dog.”
Sib remembered what his dad had said. “Son, that is one amazin’ illusion…” He felt the pain well up for a moment.
“So we get out of the cave, up the tunnel and back into the clearing," Incheon continued. "When we get to the top, the old woman is just standing there like she’d been waiting for us the whole time.”
I’m sure she was...just waiting for the next prize.
“And then…” Incheon stopped.
Sib looked over at him. He was just staring off into space. “And then…” Sib prompted him.
“Oh good,” he replied. “I thought you were asleep.” He stood up, went to the center of the circle of stones and looked into the pool. “She turned us into birds.”
Sib remembered the prisoners who seemingly disappeared when the flock of birds flew off. The prisoners...did she turn them into birds too? That doesn’t make any sense. “She turned you into birds?” he asked.
“Yeah,” he continued. “And I know it’s impossible - Mr. Puterschmidt told us so in Alteration class - but I was the bird.” He looked up into the sky. “I kept my mind...she really is the Wendigo.”
Sib remembered something that Mr. Hendershot had told them before. “What did Hendershot say about Quinta the day he overheard us?”
Incheon thought for a moment and then recited from memory. “Once every couple of generations, a mage is born who is so talented, so unbelievably skilled in a particular area of magic that they break all the boundaries about what a mage is supposed to be able to do.”
Two prodigies...Quinta and the Wendigo. Sib heard voices coming through the grove and looked up to see Lef and Willow enter the circle of stones. Sib felt happy for a fraction of a second and then the crushing weight of the world came down again.
“The Hunter mentioned that you two were out here,” Willow said. “Did you tell him what happened?” she asked Incheon.
“Did I tell him what happened?" he replied. "You just missed the most magnificent retelling of events in the history of humankind. No future recollection of Saturday’s events will ever approach the awesomeness of what I just conveyed, so please don’t try.”
“I won’t,” replied Willow, shaking her head. Sib heard the familiar buzz of an instant message book. Lef and Willow both reached into their bags and grabbed their book. Sib hadn’t used his in months. “It’s from Lily,” said Willow. “She wrote ‘brt’. I think she’s getting the hang of texting.” The book buzzed again while she had it open. “Now she wrote ‘Ghost,’ which reminds me...” She reached in her bag and pulled out a vial. “Here, Sib,” she said, holding it out. “The old woman gave me this and told me to get it to you. I hope you don’t mind that I took it to the Ghost first.”
"He's not moving this morning," Incheon said. "Just hang onto it for him until he feels like it." She looked at Sib with concern, and then nodded and put the vial back into her bag.
The memory… Why would she give that to me now? She already got everything she wanted...
“So why were you laughing when Ursula called Mr. Hendershot ‘Christopher Robin’?” Lef asked Willow.
One of the medics was named Christopher.
“It’s a nomaj story,” Willow responded. “Christopher Robin is a little boy who loves his stuffed bear, Winnie.”
The other medic was Winnie...
Sib heard more voices and looked behind Willow and Lef to see Lily and Hye-lin show up. “Willow, I’m so sorry,” Lily said when she arrived, handing the paper to her.
Willow looked, read for a moment and then dropped it to the ground. She started crying. Lef handed her a tissue from her bag. “Oh, I know it had to happen,” Willow said between sobs. “But it’s just so horrible.”
Incheon walked over and picked up the paper. He read the headline out loud. “‘Spellhold falls, mass breakout of prisoners.’ Why are you upset about that?”
“Turn it over,” Lily told him. He flipped the page over and read the next story. “Manticore haunting Gampton Island killed.” He read in silence for a few seconds. “It says here, the guy who killed it was named Andrew Hooplander.”
“Do you know him Sib?” Hye-lin asked.
That’s my Uncle Andy. I haven’t seen him in years. How did he manage to kill the manticore?
“Leave him be,” said Incheon. “He’s not talking yet either.” He turned to Lily. “Why did you send ‘Ghost’?”
“Turn to page eight.”
Incheon flipped to the center of the paper and read. “The Ghost is issuing a correction to a previous story run on October 16. In it, the prophecy was inaccurately stated. The correct version of the prophecy should read: ‘I see five bloody harvests; five years of darkness; and at the end there is nothing. The end of the era of magic is nearing. The nomaj will rise and replace the mage. I see legions of mages becoming powerless; the ranks growing of the magic deprived and magic depraved. Gampton Hall’s fifth house will mark the beginning. Only those who follow the path of darkness can avoid the end’.”
“Why’d they bury this on page eight as a correction?” asked Willow.
“Mother and I are sure MACUSA made them do it,” said Quinta, who had just arrived, carrying her mother tucked under her arm like it was a quaffle. “We’re surprised it’s printed at all.”
“But at least the truth is out there,” Lef added.
At least we didn’t fail you, Gramma...
They looked up as a delivery owl flew into the clearing, circled twice and then dropped a small package at Sib’s feet. He reached over to pick it up as the owl screeched and flew off.
It was addressed to him. The two ‘o’s in his last name even had little dots in them like his dad always used to do. He opened the box and looked inside. There was a feather - orange and black...an oriole...and a small silver ring. There was no note.
He tilted the box and the ring dropped into the palm of his hand. This is my ring. Why would the Wendigo give me my ring back? He picked up the orange and black feather and twirled it in his fingers. Thoughts raced through his brain one after another.
“She turned us into birds…”
“Sib, you have to stay away…”
He knew my name...How did he know my name?
“You just want to claim the reward, don’t you?”
“Even a graze from that curse is enough to kill a full grown man...”
They hit him with four killing curses.
“...manticores are resistant to magic…”
He screamed like a manticore…
Christopher Robin and Winnie…
“...he was the best illusionist in the country...hands down; could make a dragon look like a puppy dog...”
...he screamed like a manticore…
“Not all is as it appears…”
“My dad’s alive!” he said, jumping up.
“The oriole!” he shouted, holding up the feather. “She turned him into an oriole! He’s alive!”
“Are you alright?”
“And the manticore...Hendershot he...he charmed it to look like my dad, but it wasn’t. Don’t you see?”
“No,” said Incheon.
Sib ran over and hugged him, picking him up in the air in a gigantic bear hug. “My dad isn’t dead!”
“That’s...good?” Incheon replied when Sib set him down.
“Ursula was there...and Uncle Andy...and the Wendigo!”
Sib hugged Willow next. He placed his hands on her cheeks and wiped away her tears with his thumbs. “I’m sorry about Corey,” he said. “But he gave his life to save my dad.” She smelled like honeysuckle. Without thinking, he leaned in and kissed her on the lips.
“He what?” she asked when he pulled away.
“He’s alive!” cried Sib, who stepped back and then he fell to his knees and wept. Tears of joy streaked down his cheeks as his friends huddled around him.
(*Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin created by A.A. Milne)
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