Authors: Cameron Jace
“I will rip your ashen heart apart,” a third plant said, stretching high enough to bite on Cerené’s knees. A couple of other plants bit parts of her dress off.
Cerené backed off; too far for the plant to reach her, “You’re horrible plants,” she talked to them. “You eat every living thing that passes next to you. What has that poor frog done to you?”
“If you think we’re horrible, you’re just as horrible,” the plant said as Shew tried to pull Cerené away from them. Talking plants weren’t that surprising in the Kingdom of Sorrow. Weird was just about the norm.
Cerené pulled away from Shew’s grip and dared brush the coin against the plant’s arm then pulled it away immediately. The plant swallowed the trick and stretched out far enough to rip its roots from the soil.
Cerené picked up the dying plant—and several others. They were flopping like fish out of water before giving up.
Cerené she ran away, the other plants cursing her.
“Run away, daughter of Bianca!” the plants snarled.
“Burn! Burn! Burn!” the plants started spitting the food they’d eaten at Cerené and Shew; frog’s legs, chicken wings, and squirrel teeth.
Shew and Cerené ran back to the hill. Cerené acted as if she were just playing, waving her Rapunzel plant in the air with a wide victorious smile on her face, not paying attention to the cuts the plants made on her fingers.
“You’re hurt,” Shew said. “I think we should get back to the castle. I can mend your wounds,” she regretted not snarling with her fangs at the plants.
“I’ve been cut worse,” Cerené said nonchalantly.
“Did the plants cause the same cut on your cheek and neck?” Shew inquired, unable to hold her curiosity. Suddenly, it occurred to her that Cerené hid her scars intentionally behind the ashes. That was why she wouldn’t clean the ashes off her skin, because they’d show the wounds she’d preferred hiding.
Cerené’s eyes dimmed, betrayed by Shew’s question. She stared at her with moist eyes. All the happiness she’d just experience in getting the plants just withered away.
Shew knew the girl was about to burst into tears, but she couldn’t help but ask her.
“You’re horrible,” Cerené screamed at Shew. “You promised not to ask,” she threw the Rapunzel plant in Shew’s face and ran down the other side of the hill, deeper into the forest.
Shew picked up the plant and ran after her. It was a long shot. With each step, Shew felt guilty that she had upset her.
Almost a mile later, Shew knocked Cerené down and held her tightly until she stopped crying.
Finally, when Shew apologized repeatedly, Cerené stopped crying, and slept in her arms the way tired babies do.
Shew brushed her hair gently, leaned back against a tree, wondering about this mysterious girl. She thought she’d never felt so curious and caring about someone like her.
With nothing else to do, waiting for Cerené to wake up again, Shew’s thoughts drifted, thinking about Loki again.
Remembering Loki, she touched the necklace he’d given her in the World Between Dreams—she’d been wearing it since the beginning of this dream. Shew looked at the cryptic engravings on the necklace again:
What does it mean, Loki?
She tried to read it vertically from both sides then she flipped it upside down. Either it was some kind of a symbol or parts of an alphabet. She still didn’t know.
Frustrated, she sighed, looking at the moon above. For a moment, Shew thought she saw the moon smile at her.
The Mermaid’s Milk
A little later, Cerené woke up screaming.
Shew held her tighter; assuring her she was in safe hands. Still, it wasn’t the hands that finally calmed Cerené but Shew’s caring eyes looking back at her.
“Friends?” Cerené said.
Shew was surprised these were her first words, “Of course,” she replied.
Whatever unexpected drama was happening, Cerené had found a trusting pair of eyes as a friend for the first time in about fourteen years, and Shew, who’d always thought of herself as a lonely monster, learned that a person who’d been smeared with the ugliness of the world, could still have a beautiful effect on others.
Why do I feel I would kill for Cerené? Is she some sort of a test sent to me to begin my journey?
“Nightmares?” Shew patted her.
“Always nightmares, awake and asleep,” Cerené said.
Shew wanted to ask her about Bianca, whom she’d assumed was Cerené’s mother. She also wanted to ask her what the Rapunzel plants meant by ‘Burn! Burn! Burn!’
“Nightmares don’t matter now. You have this,” Shew pointed at the Rapunzel plant, which Cerené had been gripping tightly while asleep.
“Yeah,” Cerené jumped to her feet. “I forgot. Let’s play! Come on,” she pulled Shew and stared at the moon.
It was a full moon, but it wasn’t smiling at them the way Shew had imagined.
“You know that’s a girl up there?” Cerené said dreamingly.
“A girl?” Shew blinked. “Oh, you mean the old tale about the girl living on the moon?”
“No,” Cerené said. “You don’t understand. The moon
a girl,” she ran around the forest, waving at the moon.
Helpless yet mesmerized, Shew followed Cerené.
“Hey!” Cerené shouted at the moon as she ran farther in a direction leading to a lake. Her voice echoed in this empty part of the forest. “Can you come down for a moment?” Cerené actually asked the moon.
Shew couldn’t believe herself actually checking if the moon was a girl. The way Cerené insisted on it was inescapable. She talked passionately about crazy things in a way that could turn a blasphemer into a believer.
“Is she waving back at you?” Shew wondered if she’d missed something. All she saw was a round and white plate hanging from the sky. Maybe only Cerené could see the moon in girl form.
“No,” Cerené said disappointedly. “She seems sad today. You know she is a busy girl.”
“How busy could the moon be? It just hangs up there, brooding all night,” Shew knew she was harsh, but she needed to talk reason.
“No, she is very busy,” Cerené insisted, stopping by the lake, which was more of a swamp. “She keeps an eye on the good hearted people who walk the forest at night, watching them from above. If they get attacked by one of the creatures of the night, she descends and fights to protect them.”
The idea of the moon being a girl who descended to protect people at night was insane but also beautiful, Shew thought.
So the moon actually had a purpose, to shine on the good hearted, showing them the way?
“So why are we here by this swamp?” Shew asked, remembering that she thought the moon smiled at her. “What does the moon have to do with the Rapunzel plant?”
“To turn the Rapunzel plant into ashes we have to wash it with a certain type of water that only the moon can provide,” Cerené said.
“I thought burning something turned it to ashes, not washing it.”
“Not when it comes to my Art,” Cerené said. “If I burn the plant with plain fire, the ashes will not work for creating my magic. It has to be cleaned with Mermaid Milk.”
“Now this is getting odd,” Shew speculated.
“It’s not really Mermaid Milk. It’s just a fancy name,” Cerené winked at her again. “The moon has a spiritual connection with mermaids. I guess it’s because one is up there in the highest sky and the other lives down there in the deepest of the sea. I read about it in some book. The moon is capable of producing a white liquid, the color of
, which is mixed by mermaids with water from the sea. That’s Mermaid Milk. It’s what turns this Rapunzel plant to ashes I use in my Art…”
Suddenly, Cerené stopped talking while gazing over Shew’s shoulder. It wasn’t a look of fear in her eyes, but utter fascination.
“Don’t turn around,” Cerené said, gripping Shew’s arm.
Shew could hear something splashing behind her in the swamp.
“Why?” Shew was dying to look back.
“She told me so,” Cerené said, still smiling.
“Who told you so?” Shew didn’t know what to think. Should she be scared, happy, or worried about Cerené’s sanity?
“Why don’t you want her to turn around?” Cerené asked the being in the swamp, but Shew heard no reply.
“She says she doesn’t want to show herself to you,” Cerené explained to Shew.
“One of the mermaids,” Cerené said. “She says you’re a…”
“I’m a what?” Shew pursed her lips.
“No, she isn’t,” Cerené talked to the mermaid—which Shew assumed was imaginary. “Joy is my friend,” she said squeezing Shew’s arm.
“What did she say about me?” Shew demanded and turned around.
With the darkness looming in the Black Forest, and the heavy layer of fog, it was hard to confirm that what she’d seen splashing into the water was a mermaid. Shew saw something flip its tail, but it could have been a big fish in the swamp. Whatever Cerené had been talking to, disappeared underneath the thick layers of the swamp.
“What did she say about me?” Shew turned back to Cerené, demanding an answer.
“Don’t worry about her,” Cerené said. “She said you were part evil and part good, and that you were still indecisive about which side to choose. She rather considers you and enemy to her. That’s why she feared you.”
“How could she think that of me?” Shew said, wondering if all this was Cerené’s imagination, and that Cerené herself was the one who thought that Shew hadn’t chosen a side yet.
Cerené didn’t reply. She had already knelt down with a glass urn filled with white liquid in her hand, pouring it on the Rapunzel plant.
“Where did you get that urn?” Shew was starting to lose her temper.
“From the mermaid, of course,” Cerené said. “Look,” she pointed at the Rapunzel plant turning into ashes in the urn. The ashes looked a bit fiery like Cerené’s aura.
Shew said nothing. She was sure she hadn’t seen that urn with Cerené before.
“Great,” Cerené said, holding her urn with care as if she had just caught the most precious butterfly in it. “Now we’ve got the ashes. Do you remember what the next ingredient is?”
“Oh,” Shew was speechless, “I forgot.”
“That’s fine,” Cerené said. “Remember I told you the first element of the Art is the Heart, which are the ingredients to make magic. The Heart is three parts; ashes and we’ve taken care of that already. Now we need sand and lime.”
“How are we going to get those?” Shew asked.
“Limestone is easy. Follow me,” Cerené ran into the dark of the forest again.
Shew had never seen anyone so comfortable with the forest before. Usually, people were careful walking in the Black Forest for it was a place full of evil creatures, but not Cerené. She could meet the Boogeyman and shake hands with him then walk on, or possibly convince him to fetch her limestone for her Art.
This time, Shew followed Cerené to the School of Sorrow where she worked, cleaning after the teachers and students had gone home. Cerené told her to wait while she went inside. A moment later, she came back with chalk in her hands.
“See?” Cerené showed her the chalk, happily.
“See what? The chalk?”
“Chalk is basically limestone,” Cerené explained. “With a drop from the Mermaid Milk, we got ourselves the second piece of the puzzle. Now we have ashes and lime.”
“That was easy,” Shew mumbled.
“All of it is easy, even the ashes,” Cerené said.
How was fighting villainous plants to get ashes easy?
“As long as we’re playing, it’s always easy,” Cerené said as if she had read Shew’s mind.
Cerené poured two drops of Mermaid’s Milk on the chalk. She bit the chalk into small pieces, not worrying about the limestone staining her lips and teeth. She put the chalk, now powder, in the urn and mixed it with the ashes.
“You got chalk on your teeth,” Shew remarked.
“Don’t worry,” Cerené said and started rubbing her teeth with powder chalk left on her lips. “Limestone is good for teeth.”
Shew saw that Cerené was right. After rubbing it a couple of times over her teeth, her teeth whitened and shined.
“Let me see that,” Shew took some of the lime on her forefinger. “This is amazing,” she let out a forced laugh. She remembered collecting a book from one of the victims she’d fed on in the Schloss, and reading that toothpaste was originally made of chalk or lime.
What if Cerené ended up discovering toothpaste?
“Why are you laughing?” Cerené wondered.
“This is basically toothpaste,” Shew said.
“What is toothwaste?”
“Paste. Toothpaste is something to clean your teeth with.”
. “I like that name. You’re good. Nice one. You know this
doesn’t only whiten your teeth? It also protects it from the Demon Worm.”
“The Demon Worm?” Shew asked then felt a sudden surge of white light hit her brain. It hurt but it was brief. It made her remember that in her time in the Kingdom of Sorrow people didn’t know much about teeth. They believed cavities were caused by a Demon Worm sent by Night Sorrow. A person with a cavity or ache in his tooth was considered possessed, and the demon possessing him had to be exorcized. “Of course, Demon Worms,” Shew rubbed her forehead. “This stuff can protect you from it. That’s amazing. So tell me, Cerené. We have brought ashes, lime, and now we need sand, right?”