Chapter 1: Her Normal Life

The house was quiet. Danielle prepared to slip quietly out. She glanced in the mirror by the front door. Her pleasantly acne-free and unlined face blinked back at her curiously. ‘Where are you going?’ it seemed to ask. ‘Can I come too?’ Danielle looked away, abandoning her reflected twin to the confines of the house. She slipped on sneakers and as she shut the door behind her, the keys on the hooks tittered in disapproval.

            Outside the city lights twinkled invitingly. She had never snuck out after midnight, but times were changing. She needed to talk to Sherry.

            The pavement radiated heat after the long August day. She looked down at the usual cacophony of old cigarette butts, littered soda cans, and paper and plastic bags as well as lost pennies and dimes and a muddy hoop earring. Shortcuts didn’t seem to be able to boast scenic routes. They say New York never sleeps but sometimes it does.

            After a lengthy trudge she made it to Sherry’s townhouse. Okay, realistically there had been no need to walk all the way but what good were feet if you never used them? She stopped before the door, eyes level with the brass knocker. Her twin from the mirror surfaced again before her eyes, luminous and warped in the curves of the fixture. Danielle reached in her pocket. Her outgrown bangs flopped into her face.

            She pulled the top off the tube and dragged it along her lip, starting in the center moving outwards. When finished, her rosy pink lips were the only part of her made up.

The knocker fell against the door three times. Sherry was there shushing her seconds later, even though not a word had escaped her and she appeared more bewildered than talkative.

            “What is it?” Sherry looked at her like she was crazy. “Well?”

            “I didn’t mean to wake you,” Danielle apologized with her tone. “I just needed…” Sherri raised her eyebrows and pressed her hair out of her face. “…to tell you something.”

            “Okay?” Sherry nodded. “But now?”

            Danielle nodded back. “Yeah. Now.”

            Sherry sat on the steps and motioned for Danielle to do the same. “What’s up?”

            “If…” Danielle began, but stopped. She looked at Sherry and saw that asking was futile. This girl she had thought she’d known – she hadn’t known her like she’d thought. “If I were to move, would you stay in touch?”

            Sherry appeared occupied with the brownstone across the street, like the walls would animatedly do a jig any second. Eventually she replied. “Danielle, you’re kind of great, but I’m not popular for my sympathy. You’re disposable, replaceable, and forgettable so far as others care. I don’t need you any more than you need me. And I say that as one popular girl to another.”

            “You mean I really mean nothing to you? Nothing at all, after the past two years?”

            “Where are you even moving?” Sherry scowled.

            “Out of the country. Could you please answer me?”

            “Danielle,” she said her soon to be ex-friend’s name mournfully, “it was fun while it lasted. But you know what I’ll have to do now.”

            “I know. And I won’t be upset with you for it,” Danielle lied. It was killing her inside already.

            “Is that lipstick?”

            Danielle gave her a one-sided smirk. “Thought I’d finally take your advice.”

            “Next time add some mascara to those blonde lashes of yours too.”

            “We’ll see. Don’t push it.”

            “You and your obsession with ‘looking natural,’ whatever that really means.”

            “You and your obsession with being the epitome of ‘normal,’ whatever that really means,” Danielle kidded her back.

            “Hey, a tan is sexy.”

            “Says you – but that’s okay.”

            “Maybe one day you’ll understand,” Sherry said in her usual breathy way and tucked Danielle’s hair out of her face. “Can you please take a piece of advice from me?”

            “Mm… depends.”

            “Don’t hide that beautiful face behind that lustrous hair. Don’t get me wrong – your hair is fabulous. But there’s no need to second guess that your face is worth being seen,” Sherry gazed intently at her.

            Danielle rolled her eyes.

            “When are you leaving?”

            “Next weekend.”

            “What about school? Are you gonna have to learn another language?”

            “Don’t you worry about it,” Danielle answered ambiguously. “Like you said, I’ve got nothing to lose.”

            Sherry nodded wistfully. “True. The real loss is mine.”

~

As far back as she could remember she had answered to the name Danielle. Not Dani (although she wouldn’t have objected to it), and certainly never Olivia.

            Lying on her bed staring at her ceiling, she could remember a time when she had invented an alter ego that went by Olivia. What would she be like? Danielle could still recall: this Olivia would have the courage of a thousand soldiers before the final battle, the honesty of a dying criminal with nothing to lose, and hold herself with an elegance and grace that (even when she was dashing forth from the jaws of a hungry tiger) Danielle hadn't currently the slightest idea how to acquire. Ah well. A girl could dream.

            No matter the dreams, though, she was not that Olivia, or any incarnation of an Olivia. Her honesty needed some more effort on her part (and this was something she truly wanted to improve), and the only way she would ever be as courageous as a thousand soldiers was possibly if she took karate or something, essentially became invincible, and could snap a cement block in half just like that.

            Sadly, karate would not be happening anytime soon because after shooting up this past summer like a drowning swimmer in search of air (clearly her final growth spurt), never-Olivia was still trying to control her limbs properly in a timely manner. Hence the whole elegance and grace dilemma. However, there was hope yet. A quick learner, she would be fully adjusted by the start of high school, she was sure of it.

            As sure as any tentative fourteen-year-old could be.

            Her name was Olivia Danielle Alice.

~

Danielle was the daughter of two loving parents, Elizabeth and Alexander Alice, neither of whom knew how to set work aside to care for their daughter.

            Alex was a successful businessman who sold products for System X, a company that made and sold computers and the gizmos that went with them. His lifelong desire was to turn entrepreneurial and market his own tech-savvy gadgets, but considering he would have a rough go explaining how his magical abilities were what really held together his designs, he knew it would just have to wait until his return to wizard-friendly Zartia. (Not that New York City residents aren’t witch- and wizard-friendly, you see, it’s simply that magic defies the logic most businessmen use as the foundation for their operations.)

            So that was Alex. Liz on the other hand… well, most of the people who knew Liz had little inkling what her occupation might be. She was seen out and about as most city-dwellers are, but she never divulged where she was headed or if she was meeting with someone. She lived a secretive life, and her peers – regardless of how close they were to her – always felt on edge, unsure of what she might have to hide.

            Liz’s husband Alex had won her heart not by charm or brawn, but by intellect. In his teens he had been a bumbling genius who cared more about books than anything else until Liz befriended him.

            It was not love at first sight, as some friends looking back may have claimed. Rather it was a commitment gained over many conversations and mutual interests and goals as well as (unforgettably, of course) a shared chemistry.

            They had been of the same year at St. Marshall’s Academy in Zartia, the most prestigious and expensive school on the island. However, the most important thing was not whether you could pay, but whether you had an academic motivation that surpassed the average teen’s. Where there was a will, there was a way when it came to admission into St. Marshall’s.

            Not long after they graduated (sharing their fifth year dance together as suave dance partners) Liz and Alex married with a small and lovely ceremony in the park by the Gulf of Mexico coastline. It had been a cloudy, windy day but the sky withheld downpour until the ceremony was over. So as it poured and the wind gusted the curtains of their honeymoon beach house on the Western, less-inhabited side of the island, they did those activities all couples in enthusiastic matrimonial celebration do and not long after there was a little Danielle to tend.

~

Earlier that day, an unusual event barged in on the Alice household. Danielle jumped and her mom chopped an abnormally large chunk of carrot as they both looked up to see Ellie Hensen, her cousin, burst into the room from the back porch. At twenty with brunette wavy hair, Ellie had the aura only a mature woman could exude and the curves to go along with it. Danielle secretly envied her, but she would never tell anyone that. She found her blonde hair to be more limply straight than lusciously so, her eyes simply didn’t have the same vitality Ellie’s exuded, and she had yet to find her personal style.

            Her dad, Alex, walked in carrying his briefcase and wearing his suit. His tie wasn’t straight, but nobody commented and Danielle ran to hug him ceremoniously.

            “Will you ever tire of doing this every day?” he teased half-heartedly.

            “Of course not!” she mock pouted back.

            The doorbell rang.

            “Funny, I didn’t see anyone outside a second ago,” Alex noted.

            Liz exchanged a look with her husband that could have said a variety of things, none of which Danielle could translate. She concluded, “I’ll get that.”

            Peeping through the curtain on the door, Liz settled on cracking it open.

            “Yes?” Liz asked.

            “Hello.”

            Crickets hopped about the lawn as he peered at her inquisitively.

            “Who are you?” Liz questioned.

            An old lady hobbled loudly down the opposing sidewalk, pushing an empty stroller, cooing to an invisibly rowdy child.

            When the coast seemed clear and no one was watching from the windows across the street, he began.

            “I’m Timothy Sales with the Magic Administration, and I’m here to discuss the circumstances surrounding your daughter and her education.”

            “Well, I was planning on getting her a tutor,” Liz stated.

            “Do you have anyone specific in mind?”

            “No, I was hoping the government would provide a list.”

            “We do, but we are first required to ask if you already know of someone who will suit your needs.”

            “Well I want someone for the couple weeks before school starts, so that Danielle can get familiarized with the way things work.”

            “No problem. We’ll send you a list. In the letter you sent us you said you hadn’t reached a decision on what you were going to do so I decided to stop by and clarify things. We also need to know what transportation you’ll be taking on your way to a Safe Zone.”

            “Subway.”

            “Excellent choice. We’ll provide Movers for you. Don’t forget that the date of your departure is August eleventh.”

            “I’m aware of that. About ten days from now. But couldn’t this have been discussed in a letter?”

            “Yes, but I was in the neighborhood anyway, so I thought I’d go ahead and stop by. Besides, I like doing my job in person.”

            “That’s exactly why people hate Moving Officials,” Liz mumbled under her breath as she began shutting the door.

            “Sorry – didn’t catch that,” he replied.

            “Nothing. Just thinking out loud,” she replied, pasting on a fake smile. “Well, I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting. I’m sure you have other, more important jobs to take care of.”

            “No, all jobs are equal in a Moving Official’s eye,” Tim answered smiling.

            “You know, it’s a good thing you’re paid to say that or I’d ask if you were mentally disturbed,” Liz said closing the door as Tim’s smile instantly disappeared.

            She turned around to see Danielle staring at her, wondering what was going on and why she couldn’t be included.

            “Some lunatic who’s completely out of his mind,” she said, and Danielle relaxed, assuming her mother had thought so from the start and had just been protecting her.

            “Finished your homework?” her dad asked, even though he already knew the answer. He always seemed to know, although Danielle could never figure out how.

            She sighed. “No.”

            “Off you go then.” She knew he wanted to be alone with her mother, and would probably send Ellie away, too.

            As the sun set and the penciled Algebra homework was smeared from hard labor, Liz knocked on Danielle's door.

            “Come in.” Her mom walked in as Danielle sat up. “You look very serious.”

            “Yes,” her mother replied. “I have something very important to tell you.”

            “What is it?” Danielle asked.

            “Well, I know it’s not something you’ll take lightly and you might not believe me at first.”

            “What are you talking about?” Her expression pleaded her mother to spill.

            “You’re not in trouble or anything. It’s just-”

            “Mom!”

            Liz sighed. “Fine. I’ll tell you.” She paused. “We’re moving.”

            “What?”

            “To an island down South.”

            “...Where humans like me, white as pure sand, burn to crisps instead of tan?”

            “Yeah. That sort of south. But think more diverse weather. Let's conclude there's sometimes snow.”

            “Snow? You're saying there's snow in places like the Bahamas?”

            “Uh, like the Bahamas but not the Bahamas. We're going to Zartia.”

            “Zartia? Must be population zero since that's a cool name and I've never heard of it.”

            Liz broke into a mysterious smile. “Not even close.”

~

Dexter stood at the train station. He gave a feeble wave as ReyAnne crossed the platform to board.

            “Dex, I'll be back in a week. Then school will start and we can spend loads of time together again,” she said.

            Dexter only smiled sullenly. He knew that was true, but still. He wanted his best friend there. ReyAnne was going to her Aunt's out in western Zartia, in a small town essentially in the middle of nowhere where there were lots of trees and lots of rocks and more importantly lots of uncontaminated air, which they say is good for the soul but also really good for the lungs.

            None of that really mattered to Dexter because he didn't care about having good air quality. What he wanted was for things to freeze in time. He had been enjoying summer up until he’d found out ReyAnne had to leave. Now he would have to go back and essentially sit in the apartment for a week. His dad worked for the government and his mom was... well, not around. He’d be back to entertaining himself, watching through his living room window as the cars flew by outside. Cars with people who still had lives that were in motion while his stagnated.

ReyAnne waved from behind a pane of glass, trying to get his attention, but he was lost to her. He found it odd that the most important person in his life was a girl his age that he had no romantic feelings for. And yet, he had never considered it strange, his lack of close male friends. Maybe ReyAnne had been the best, affording him her sisterly company.

            He finally met her eyes, smiling genuinely, at least for her sake.

            The train began chugging, steam cluttering the air above the platform. Then it was gone.

            Dexter Perry was a boy of fifteen. He lived in Zartia and he had one very important friend, ReyAnne, who held his life together when it was falling apart. She had always been around and now was no different. Not that anything was falling apart. But they were starting school, at the great and prestigious St. Marshall's Academy. He had everything ahead of him, Dexter did. So many decisions to make: each one leading to a different life. The thing was that the one thing that would change his life the most had not yet arrived. But it would. Inevitably, it impended nearer. And everyone involved would never be the same.

~

There was a man who would acknowledge no enemy but time. He was a transient being, one not quite of night, not quite of day. But he could exist in either phase. He was a man with little to lose and much to do. He was a man the world had opened its arms to and welcomed within the fold of eternity. He was a man who lived just outside of the known society and just inside civilization. This man was a vampire. He went by Damien Mavlin.

~

Damien didn't know, and neither did Dexter, that their lives – although indescribably different – would soon become intertwined.

~

Zartia sat in the ocean, invisible, intangible to anyone who didn't possess magic. It had been there for hundreds of years, undetected, silently floating, ships passing through it like a nonexistent mass. But it was there. It was there. Zartia, this ancient island that had once throned kings and queens, would now evolve into something else. Zartia would never be the same. Danielle was coming.





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