“Answer him, girl!” Mrs. Gentry prodded a very confused Mary, whose young heart oscillated between shame and terror. “Mary! Her name is Mary!” the lady clarified.
“Who are you?” the grumpy guy retorted bluntly, making Mrs. Gentry recoil with indignation.
“I believe it’s untoward of you to address me, given that we’re not related, nor have we been properly introduced,” she protested, ready to leave.
“Suit yourself!” the man cut her off. “I only care about the girl anyway.”
“Jim!” the other man protested. “Would it kill you to be nice?”
“She wasn’t supposed to be involved in this to begin with!” Jim replied.
“Why don’t you go finish what you were working on, I’ll take it from here,” his friend recommended.
“Real nice! After all the time I spent slaving over this monitor,” Jim protested, but left.
“Hi, Mary,” the one in the mirror looked at the girl again. “I know how scary all of this must be for you, but I need you to stay with me for a while, so I can explain. You have no idea how excited we all are to have found you, we almost lost hope, we thought someone faked the rumors of your existence. Are there any more people like you in the village?”
“No,” Mary said, almost in a whisper. “How are you speaking with me?”
“Mary!” Lucille protested the breach of etiquette, even if under the circumstances formalities seemed a little absurd.
“That’s ok, we’ll go over that soon,” the one in the mirror smiled.
“Are you the Source?” Mary asked him, shaking like a leaf.
“The source of what?” the man replied, confused.
“The Book of Prophecy says that if I find my way to the Source the world will come to an end,” Mary whimpered.
“I’m sure we’ll all be alright for the time being,” the man burst out laughing. “And I do believe we’re related…”
“I’m related to the Source?” Mary’s shiver intensified.
“Could you please explain to me what you mean by the source?” the one in the mirror tried to understand her misgivings.
“That which we divined in the mirror while we were searching for its spell, we didn’t mean you harm, we just wanted to open the mirror and ask it questions. But it just kept opening and opening, and then the Que’d language appeared, but it was protected by the seal of the Source and we were all afraid when it burst open,” Mary blurted in one breath.
“You don’t mean the source code, by any chance?” the one in the mirror did his best not to laugh.
“Indeed,” Mary started crying heavily. “What will become of us?”
“I won’t let you scare this child with your wicked chatter about the end-times!” Lucille intervened. “Let’s go, Mary!” she said out loud, and then whispered in her niece’s ear. “We need to get you somewhere safe, I’ll deal with him later!”
“Please don’t leave, please! I can assure you she will be perfectly safe here, from me anyway,” the one in the mirror threw a piercing gaze behind them. Lucille turned around just in time to watch Rosemary put together a disapproving frown, with Mrs. Gentry behind her, looking down, somewhat embarrassed.
“Serves me right,” Lucille thought, “for feeding the ambulant rumor mill. I’m surprised it took her a whole fifteen minutes to sick the mouth of damnation upon us,” she glared at Mrs. Gentry and then at Rosemary, displeased.
“What do I hear, Lucille? Is it true that this wretched child has the same blood as the Source? That she summoned it and it answered her? That she was spoken to by two men? This situation calls for a full Council meeting, with all the elders present, oh, how their poor souls will anguish over the evidence of her perfidy!” Rosemary couldn’t contain a triumphant smirk. “The girl will stand judgment, of course, if that even needed to be said, and then we’ll finally destroy this place, for the sake of our children and our sacred rules. I am needed in Council to provide the elders with the information they need. Mrs. Gentry, I trust that you will escort the unfortunate to the Council Hall and lock her in a room until she has confessed her misdeeds and we have decided her fate. Lucille, darling, I am crushed to put an old friend in this humiliating situation, but in all fairness, dear, everybody told you that the child was born evil, you shouldn’t have put yourself out like that, it’s going to be so much harder now, after you fed and clothed her for years, I can’t even imagine what you’re going to tell your friends and neighbors. But we all make mistakes, don’t we?” she went on, then turned towards Mrs. Gentry. “Make sure to have the girl brought to the Council Hall within the hour, the questioning should start as soon as possible.”
She thought of destroying the mirror before she left, but was terrified that the one inside it might come out, or worse still, drag her in, so she turned on her heels and left, planning to bring a whole team back to the cave later, to eliminate the curse once and for all.
Lucille and Mrs. Gentry looked at each other, and then at the mirror, where the fair man was frowning with concentration, trying to think up a solution to the conundrum.
“Sorry, dear, she dragged it out of me, you know she can be persuasive when she chooses,” Mrs. Gentry finally spoke. Lucille looked her straight in the eyes, but said nothing.
“You know what I’m thinking?” Mrs. Gentry started again. “I am not as quick as I used to be,” she watched Lucille for a nod of approval. The latter obliged. “I think it would be best if I went back to the Council and made an official request for assistance. If the girl tried to run out on us, how would we ever catch up with her? I will have to follow procedure, which may take me a while, so keep an eye on Mary, will you?” She fidgeted, not knowing how to continue the conversation, then said. “Well, I’ll see you later, time is of the essence, it seems,” and left the room, scanning for exits out of habit.
“What are we going to do, aunt?” Mary asked after Mrs. Gentry’s departure, and with the swirl of unexpected events that had landed on her head during the previous week, she hardly had enough energy left to panic.
“Walk behind that boulder and follow the tunnel, it will take you to the next cave, which is very much like this one. Wait there, we’ll set up another console for you,” the one in the mirror interjected.
“They are going to seal this cave for sure, how is Mary going to get out?” her aunt worried.
“The soapstone the hill is made of is very porous, there is a whole system of interconnected caves inside it, with exits everywhere. In truth, I’m counting on them sealing this one, it will take the heat off of us until we figure out a more permanent solution. I’ll guide you through, don’t go back the same way you came in. What happened to the tablet?” he asked.
“You mean the smaller mirror? With the symbols that burst open when you touch them?” Lucille asked.
‘The portable computer with the touch screen, yes,” the one in the mirror said.
“What’s a…” Lucille started asking.
“I’m sorry, I promise we’ll discuss all of this later, but now you must hurry, and make sure you have the tablet with you, we need to stay in contact.”
Lucille wanted to ask how, but Mary had already disappeared behind the boulder, and the former worried the girl would get lost in the maze behind it.
The room at the end of the tunnel was indeed very much like the one they just left, large, with a sky opening for good lighting and boulders sprinkled around the perimeter; Lucille assumed that behind every one of those boulders was another corridor, and this made her contemplate what a nightmare it would be to find one’s way out of the cave if the need arose.
She made sure Mary found a cozy nook to rest in, caressed her hair like she used to when the girl was but a child, and got up to leave.
“You should be safe here for now, I’ll return after nightfall with food, water and blankets, but I really have to go to the Council Hall now, I’m sure Rosemary already convened the plenum.”
“What if they don’t let you leave, aunt?” Mary asked, choking tears.
“Oh, don’t worry about me, child. I spent decades dealing with the Council, I know how to handle myself. See you tonight!” she said smiling as she left.