Chapter 15 – The end times

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Lucille and Mary spent the following week trying to learn more about what the mirror could do. There was one aspect of this endeavor that none of them could shake off: as exciting as it was to communicate with the magical object, the Que’d manuscript beckoned from the chest where it had been carefully stashed, wrapped in linen and strewn with lavender buds to ward off the moths.

Lucille couldn’t let go of the thought that the truth remained hidden somewhere underneath that black water the playful symbols were floating on, the way sunken treasures sleep undisturbed in the depths of the ocean. From somewhere inside that dark water the ancient words of the Que’d called out to her, she could almost hear them, remember them from her childhood, although she would have chastised any person for lacking seriousness if they brought this up to her.

She remembered how many of her ancestors had braved great peril to keep the ancient language from being lost forever, and, scientific mind that she was, she simply couldn’t warm up to the existence of pure magic. Deep within her soul she knew the Que’d had something to do with what made the mirror work, even though she had no evidence of that yet.

On the other hand, she wanted to remain open to the possibility that spells and enchantments did in fact animate the mirror, for if someone could compel an inanimate object to speak with human voice, one had to consider the fact that nothing was impossible anymore. She was shocked to learn how quickly the Council had accepted the reality of talking objects, considering their history.

For once, she found herself viewing the world through Mary’s eyes. She waited for the girl to be occupied with some other task and then sneaked into the attic to study the book and the notes again, looking for patterns, seeking to remember meaning, trying to connect the ancient manuscript to the shiny object in front of her, so polished and smooth surely it couldn’t have been made by human hands. Her heart skipped a beat when she looked at the mirror, wondering what kind of beings she and the village were getting entangled with, and then all of her misgivings about the curse of the Fire Maiden came back, making her wonder if there was some truth to that story, if only as a metaphor of their common unraveling.

But then she thought that the beings who had made this object wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of trying to teach them how it worked if they meant the villagers harm, besides, her decades of experience with strategy told her that in any battle with this newly discovered entity, their lively little village would be seriously outmatched.

She stared at the mirror, watching her own reflection in the shiny black glass and contemplating the fact that, according to Council law, she was committing a felony punishable by banishment. She decried the fate of all the relatives and acquaintances who had been served bitter sentences for a lot less than what she was doing now. The thought of their undeserved misery brought all the blood to her cheeks with revolt, and strengthened her resolve to pull the blindfold of ignorance and superstition off the eyes of those who made such decisions, so that nobody would be harmed again for speaking the truth.

She looked at the mirror, and as intimidating as it was to her, it was just an artifact, the product of another being’s superior intelligence and very skilled hands, but a made object nonetheless. It made her wonder what she could do if limiting thoughts were no longer lingering inside her mind.

She jerked when Mary entered the room, and attempted to put the Que’d back inside the chest, like a teenager caught passing notes in class by the teacher.

“I can’t put that out of my mind either,” Mary gestured towards the manuscript. “It’s all too easy, this magical object that just happened to fall in our laps, don’t you think?”

“Maybe,” Lucille said thoughtfully.

“Have you figured out how it connects to the Que’d?” Mary asked directly.

“Not in the least,” Lucille begrudgingly admitted.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to go over the stories from the Book of Prophecy again. If they were meant to divert attention from the Que’d and the mirrors, there may be some clues we could find in there. At least it is written in a language we understand,” the girl suggested, and Lucille had to admit her niece still had the ability to give her the creeps with her irreverence towards the sacred texts, even as the truth stared them in the face. Lucille wondered what kind of inherited traits encouraged Mary to stray so far from the straight and narrow, given her own efforts to guide and teach her the Village’s traditions the best she knew how.

“This is too much for me, Mary. Could you dial down the scientific approach a little bit? Better yet, why don’t you do the research yourself, it would be hard for me not to be biased,” she finally answered.

Mary hesitated a little.

“Well, for instance, we could start with the fact that my eyes can…ahmm…do things…” she started euphemistically. “I wonder if there is something in that story we could make sense of,” she turned to her aunt. Lucille’s guilt over being disrespectful towards the Book of Prophecy was instantly replaced by the guilt of allowing her own niece to be treated like the Village monster.

“I can’t imagine that would point to anything useful,” Lucille hesitated. Mary stared at the mirror, intently. The mirror did nothing.

“Yeah, probably not. What next? The blood,” the girl said, her green eyes still gleaming rebelliously.

“Don’t drag me into this, Mary, black mirror or not, the Council will still have us out of the Village by sundown if we get involved in blood magic!” she said, in a definitive tone.

“But…” Mary tried to protest.

“Enough, girl! There are limits!” Lucille ended the conversation. Mary relented.

“Ok, how about that story where I’m able, with a single touch of my finger, to preserve my own reflection inside the mirror and then bring it back to do my bidding at will?” Mary suggested.

“You don’t suppose there is any truth in that, do you?” Lucille asked, trying to suppress a shiver.

“Only one way to find out,” Mary said, and started touching the symbols, one by one. At some point, her own reflection returned to the dark surface, covering it entirely, with the exception of a tiny circle. “What do you suppose this does?” she asked her aunt, and before Lucille had the time to yell “Don’t touch that, Mary!” she had already placed the tip of her finger on it. The mirror uttered a small hiss, like the sneeze of a cat, as it trapped Mary’s image inside.

“Oh, no! Oh, no, Mary, we have to get that out of there, do you have any idea what the Council will do to me if I show up to the next meeting with your image inside the mirror?” Lucille panicked. “Why did you have to touch that symbol? How do we know what’s going to happen now, this is bad, we have to remove your likeness from the insides of this thing right now!”

“But how, aunt? I don’t even know how I made it happen?” Mary asked, innocently.

“That’s precisely the problem! Whatever you do, don’t touch that symbol again. Try the other ones, even though only God knows we’re not any safer with them! Come on, we don’t have a lot of time, the meeting is in two hours!” her aunt mumbled, tense. They fumbled over the black surface, their hands crossing over symbols and rousing all sorts of activity from the depths of the black glass, most of which they didn’t have time to process, not to mention understand. “I think we’re in way over our heads here, Mary,” Lucille mentioned, wretched, as the girl was going from symbol to symbol, opening mirrors inside of mirrors inside of mirrors. Inside the last one they instantly recognized the now familiar old language, even in the guise of a tiny symbol.

“Look, aunt!” Mary pointed to it.

“I can see that,” Lucille confirmed.

“What should we do?” Mary said.

“I don’t know,” her aunt replied.

“I can touch it with my finger and see if anything happens,” Mary suggested.

“You touched a lot of these symbols with your finger, you know something always happens, the question is, will that be something we’ll be able to handle?” Lucille assessed the situation.

“This is what we were looking for, isn’t it?” Mary said.

“Look underneath, Mary,” Lucille answered, her voice dry with apprehension.

“It offers to show us the Source,” Mary shivered. “The Book of Prophecy says that if the Fire Maiden finds her way back to the Source it would start the undoing of the world.”

“Does it specifically mention if the end-times happen before or after you touch that symbol?” Lucille asked.

“No,” Mary replied.

“Because we may already be doomed,” Lucille noticed calmly. “What on earth just happened?!” she shouted, pointing to the mirror. The message had disappeared and as it did, another mirror opened up, displaying on its glimmering surface the ancient words of the Que’d, etched with crystal clarity.