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WHISPER

A Short Story Series Created by Steffon Thomas

Episode 2

Echo

Written by Krissy Pánczél

Illustration by Maggie McToon

            They were unsure what the message meant, but still they needed to see for themselves.

            The little birds of the Britannian woods had been tweeting all morning about the young girl who had somehow managed the impossible… Isn’t that what they had been searching for their whole existence? New discoveries; the change in the wind? After all, life had been rather dull lately… 

***

            “Princess Victriana! It is imperative that you wake at once! Princess!… Vicky, please!”

            “Never a dull moment with this girl…” thought Sophia Demois, the Princess’s personal trainer, as she stopped knocking on the bright red door and reluctantly put her palm on the scanner affixed to the wall beside it. But the blue handprint scanner would not turn green. Instead, it switched from an inviting dark blue to an angry orange hue, accompanied by a short error sound. A second attempt would elicit a bright red light with an even more threatening noise, and the third… let’s just say the Princess was well protected. 

            Not wanting to alert the entire castle, Sophia knew exactly what to do. This, though never before a training session, had happened before. Which is why the castle’s skilled electricians had inserted a function which allowed only the royal family and their guards to enter the room without the Princess’s permission. For safety reasons, of course. 

            Sophia, with her palm still on the scanner, tapped first her thumb, then her middle, and lastly her pinky finger and rolling her eyes, uttered the phrase: “Unicornz rulez,” placing a deliberate emphasis on the z’s. Although the electricians inserted the option, it was incumbent upon the Princess to share her weekly password with her primary guardians and handlers. The scanner turned bright green, and the locks on the heavy red door clicked free. With one last, unsuccessful attempt at knocking, Sophia pushed down the door handle, then marched up to the Princess’s large bed. 

            It was past 10 am and their training session was supposed to have started over thirty minutes ago. Victriana had never been late before – she’d always been much too excited to practice her blossoming abilities. And there was always something exciting to discover. Although given her young age, the now 13-year-old heir to Britannia’s throne could be very excitable on her better days, there were, of course, the bad days, too… 

            As Sophia lifted the coverlet on the Princess’s lush queen sized bed, under which at first seemed to be a rather Victriana-shaped bump, she was disappointed to find that it was indeed the Princess’s plush toys neatly arranged to make it look as if she was still in her bed. Her current favorite, a red panda, where her head should have been, was holding the Princess’s rarely used smart watch.

            This was not unusual behavior for Victriana, but that didn’t mean Sophia’s blood pressure didn’t spike with each rebellious act. With her heart hammering in her chest she pushed a button on the side of the watch, to see a short message displayed on the screen: “Ha, fooled ya! Sorry I’m late! Be there in a minute, promise!” The timestamp read 8.45 am. Sophia immediately tapped her earpiece and alerted the castle guards. “Code Violet – please be on the lookout for the Princess. She is once again out of pocket. Report back to me as soon as she is located.”

*****

            It was a dull, grey morning. The kind of weather that was common to Britannia – not quite a heavy rain, but not at all dry. Vicky’s training gear and red hair had soaked right onto her skin, but she didn’t move it to get more comfortable. 

            She was sitting, her legs drawn up in front of her, on her favorite rock overlooking the lake beside the castle. She was having one of her bad days – sometimes the enormity of her situation was too heavy for her young shoulders to bear and she needed time to think. She didn’t believe in meditation; she had futilely tried many a purportedly soothing mobile application, and she had searched day and night for something to cheer her up on the days her responsibilities as powerful Wyvern Whisperer and future queen really tormented her. However, nothing seemed to work. Her mother, when seeing her in one of her moods, had even tried to coax her into visiting the royal medics, but she not so politely declined. It was just one of those days. She was hoping Sophia would not be too mad at her. She honestly didn’t mean to stay out too long, but she knew how her mentor would react to seeing her heavy heart and she didn’t want to make her sad, too. It’ll pass, she thought. Or at least, she hoped it would.

            Her dark thoughts swirling around her head, she reached into the pocket of her jacket and found a piece of dark chocolate she’d stashed away for just one of these occasions. She also found her mobile phone there. As she nibbled at the chocolate, trying to inject as many endorphins into her body as possible, she scrolled through her news feed. She hated the news. The many horrible stories of how people lost their families to dragons and wyverns made her feel like the entire world was ending. It was depressing.

            That was when a message popped up at the top of her phone’s screen. “MJ!” she thought, as her mood instantly improved. 

            “Thought you might like this,” read the short message. She tapped on it, and what she saw made her laugh so hard her shoulders rattled. It was a gif of a shiba dog, with its tongue hanging out, “swimming” in the air while its owner held it up. It was an old one and she had seen it a million times, but it always made her react the same way. 

            “Thanks, I needed that.” she messaged back. 

            “What are you doing on your phone past ten? Don’t you have training?” 

            Oh no! She had not realized how long she’d been sulking. Sophia must be seething, she thought.

            “Ggo, ttyl!” No time for proper goodbyes. She elegantly jumped off the boulder, right into the middle of a small puddle. She muttered a curse, seeing her training gear not only soaked, but now splattered with mud, then took off running. Though she had been in physical training and combat readiness courses her entire life, she still slipped occasionally on a twig or a piece of wet leaf, further soiling her gear and eliciting more muttering. But each time she would quickly gather herself and press on. On this day, the top of the castle was not visible due to the low-hanging clouds; nonetheless the massive complex made of metal, glass and stone glistened beautifully. Victriana knew all of the shortcuts and secret doorways on the castle grounds and was most fond of the hidden passageways that connected the castle’s main courtyard to a doorway in the small forest beside the lake. She neared said doorway hastily, but with her eyes darting from side to side to ensure that no common folk happened to spot her using it. She slipped again… and again, she muttered with frustration. “Ugh! So stupid!”

            “How very unladylike…” said the voice inside her head. 

            “Who said that?” she spouted as she abruptly stopped and turned to search for the origin of the sound (surely, she wasn’t going crazy and hearing voices in her head now?). Her hair whipped around, trailing rain droplets as if it was her own built-in fountain.

            “Did she hear us? That is not possible…”

            “I can hear you. Show yourself!” she said, reaching for the coiled whip hanging from her belt. It was her favorite weapon, and when in doubt, she found solace in its closeness. 

            “Riddle us this, and we give you our word: What caused your mane to look as if you were on constant flames?”

            “That’s insulting!” she quickly retorted. She thought about continuing to run, as she knew Sophia was probably beginning to panic. But at this point, her interest was piqued. She needed to know where the ethereal voice in her head was coming from. So, she decided to engage. “Not that I owe you any explanation, but it’s got something to do with how I was born and I actually like it! Now, who the heck are you? I don’t have time for mind games.”

            “Very well.”  said the voice. Victriana heard no sound as the form of something she’d never seen before stepped out from behind a thicket of trees. It was stunningly beautiful. A huge, shining black creature standing majestically on four legs. At first, she thought it was the largest and most gorgeous horse imaginable. The Princess’s heart jumped into her throat as she tried to process what she gazed upon. She’d always had a soft spot for Friesian horses. But this one was different… Its mane tipped in red, its hooves seemed made of sparkling gold, barely visible under the long black-red hairs. But most extraordinary was the long, sharp golden horn protruding from the middle of its forehead.

            Victriana could not find the words. She had heard stories, of course, but this… 

            “We are Sprinivasa Fanglorn, pleased to make your acquaintance, young Princess.”

            “A unicorn…” She said with equal parts wonder and amazement in her voice.

            The creature suddenly stood on its hind legs and neighed so loudly it echoed through the forest. Vicky wondered, fleetingly, whether the entire castle heard the sound, as she staggered backwards and reflexively grabbed her whip.

            “HOW DARE YOU?! WE ARE NO SIMPLE MYTHICAL CREATURES!”

            “Okay, dude, chill! God!” She snapped back, regaining her composure and her nerve. “What the heck are you then?” 

            “We are Sprinivasa Fanglorn!” The creature planted its front hooves on the ground again and circled the Princess a little bit.           

            By now Victriana could tell that Sprinivasa had no intention of hurting her. A feeling of confident curiosity now permeated her demeanor. “Yup, heard that before. Sure look like a unicorn to me.” At that, the creature angrily stomped and shook its head, its mane floating around as if it were made of air. “Though I’ve never seen a black one before.” That was a lie. She frequently took trips to the library to read fantasy books, and one image that had clearly burnt into her mind was that of a black unicorn. Of course, she had never seen any unicorns in real life. As far as anyone knew, they were mythical. They didn’t exist… Or did they?

            “We do not know what is so difficult to understand. That is who we are.”

            “Well, it’s not very informative. Why are you following me and how can I hear your thoughts? And where are the rest of you?” she said, now a bit annoyed, as she looked around. There was no sign of any other creatures.

            “We are not following you. We are observing. That is what we do. We do not know how a mortal is able to hear us.”

            “Okay, weird… Why are you speaking as if there are more than one of you?” 

            “We are Sprinivasa Fanglorn. We are one.” 

            “Man, you must be fun at parties,” Vicky quipped. “Can you maybe observe later? I have something to do now but I’d love to continue our chat. You’re kinda cool.” 

            “We do not fully comprehend those words. We do not wait for any mortals. We go where we please and when we please. But you intrigue us. Look to our coming, at first light. We shall be here.”

            “You know Lord of the Rings?” Vicky was astonished. Not only had she encountered her favorite mythical creature, but it was talking super weird, it wasn’t pink and fluffy, and it was also quoting one of her favorite iconic stories. She was sure it was her lucky day, despite the gloomy clouds and her initially gloomy mood.

            “You mortals are ever so strange… The only Lord we know of is ourselves. Lord of the Scholars.”

            “Hey, some actual information! Now we’re getting somewhere! Gotta run, but see you… tomorrow? Yeah, tomorrow morning!” The creature looked at her intently for a moment but said nothing. “I guess that’s a yes.” Vicky smiled awkwardly then took off running towards the doorway leading to the passage back to the castle’s courtyard, her head buzzing. When she looked back, the creature was gone.

*****

            “Sorry I’m late! I… What’s going on?”

            “Vicky, oh my God!” As soon as Victriana walked in the gates of the training grounds, a previously pacing Sophia ran towards her, along with one of the castle guards. Sophia clicked her earpiece, “The Princess has been located; cancel Code Violet.” The other guard, seeing that all was well, quietly left the area. Sophia’s sharp eyes looked Vicky up and down. She stopped at Vicky’s expensive boots, which were full of scuff marks, and asked disapprovingly, “Where on Earth have you been? Late for training, looking as if you took a mud bath with the royal pigs? We’ve been looking for you!”

            “I can explain, I’m sorry, but I saw…”

            “Lucky for you, you showed up before I alerted your parents. Do you realize what it does to your mother when we can’t locate you?”

            “You’re not listening to me! I saw something out there!” Vicky was so tired of adults never listening to her. She might just have made the biggest discovery of the century – maybe even millennia – and she’s being told to shut up just because she was a little late?

            “There have not been any dragon sightings in the area this morning, so unless you were in real danger, we have no time for your games.” Sophia waited. Now, she actually was listening. Victriana’s mind raced with how to explain what she saw and heard without sounding totally insane. Then, her thoughts settled as she realized she wasn’t in danger at all, so perhaps Sophia didn’t need to know. And so, the Princess kept her mouth shut and looked down at her muddy boots sheepishly. “Just as I thought.” Sophia sighed. Then she softened a bit. “It is too late now to start a session. You’ll be staying inside after the group training. We have a lot to cover today.” She kneeled down and took Vicky’s hand. “I thought you were rather eager to become a professional Wyvern Whisperer one day?” 

            “Yes, of course I am!” Victriana said with all the contrition she could muster (which wasn’t much). “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Thank you for taking the time to train me after hours.” Her mechanical, almost sarcastic voice would fool nobody, least of all her mentor whom she had known nearly all her life, but Sophia only shook her head. “Teenagers. Now go, I don’t want you to miss your classes. And also, you should probably put on something cleaner.”

            This was the first time Vicky had properly taken in her appearance. She looked a right mess – her hair was probably worse. It must be full of twigs! She thought to herself.

            “Thanks!” She didn’t look back to see Sophia’s wave of goodbye. 

            When she got back to her room, she took the quickest shower of her life and got dressed in record time. As she stared into her floor-length mirror, combing her hair, she made a decision: she wouldn’t tell anybody about her encounter… at least not yet. She wanted to know more, and she didn’t want anyone to take credit for her discovery. A smile soon engulfed her face. I guess unicorns aren’t just for fairytales after all.

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