Waiting for Anna: Part Six
Anna spends that night in the bookstore, surrounded by books too numerous to count. The Aisha falls asleep easily in the warmth of the store, covered with an old blanket that the Ixi scrounged up from a back room somewhere. Her jacket, folded up, makes a better pillow than she has had in days.
She wakes up easily the next morning, the sun shining through the dusty windows to shine a muted golden light onto her and the books around her.
The Aisha yawns and stretches, although she needs the exercise less today than other days. She feels almost normal, for all that she is waking up in a bookstore. There is order back into her life, and some semblance of normality. That is all she asks; that's more than Anna has been getting. She knows where she is, and what's happening, and she is warm and safe and less hungry than before, though she still is a little peckish.
She folds her blanket and jacket together and tucks the parcel under her free arm as she levers herself to her feet with her walking stick. Cheerfully, she starts for the front desk. She sets the blanket down there for the Ixi to find.
The Aisha turns toward the door, meaning to start for Brightvale Castle now, while it is early, and looks out through the glass panel of the door.
Through it she can see the Ixi just turning up the path for the store. It would be rude to leave now, Anna thinks, and waits for him by the desk, leaning on it instead of her stick.
He pauses by the doorstep to pick up the copy of the Neopian Times waiting there for him; as he comes in, he smiles at her.
"Did you have a good rest, then?" he asks.
"Excellent," Anna says, "thank you. I should go--thank you for--"
"Nonsense. We'll have breakfast." Tucking the Neopian Times under his arm, the Ixi heads for the back room where they had their meals the day before. He doesn't even wait to see if she'll follow.
Anna glances at the sunlight shining through the windows, and then shrugs and follows him. Another hour can't matter, she reasons. And breakfast won't even take that long.
He drops the Neopian Times on the table in the small kitchen and gets the ingredients for breakfast out of cabinets and a refrigerator shimmering with Faerie dust and spells. Anna sits at the table and watches him.
"What's your name?" she asks, surprised to find that she does not know.
He laughs. "I lost my name a long time ago," he says, breaking eggs into a pan and taking them to the stovetop. "In a book somewhere, I think. I've found many since then, but never one that seems to me to be my own."
Anna nods. "What can I call you, then?" she asks.
"Biblius," the Ixi says, and turns to grin at her. "A good enough name as any. That's what Brightvale knows me as. Biblius's Books--it's a pun, of sorts. Biblius is close to the ancient word for book. Book's books."
The Aisha smiles back and looks down at the Neopian Times. She flips it open, and scans the tag lines for the short stories and comics. She's surprised to find that there are only a few names she recognizes. She and Darren used to follow their favorite authors every week--her with comics, him with articles and short stories--but they both knew each other's favorites, back in the months before--
Anna swallows that thought. Nevertheless, the names are mostly unfamiliar. She frowns.
"Maybe they didn't get in this week," she mutters aloud. It is improbable. Still, it seems like the only explanation. Anna flips back to the front page of the Times and looks at the date as she folds it.
A moment of silence passes as the Aisha stares. Eggs crackle and sputter in the frying pan.
"Biblius," she says at last, "this... is this an old copy of the paper?"
"Hm? Oh, no, that's today's," he replies, glancing over. "Why?"
"Is this date right?" she asks, holding it up. The paper flutters in her shaking hands.
With a sigh, the Ixi abandons the fried eggs to come over and satisfy her curiosity. He takes the Neopian Times and flips it out, tipping his spectacles down to look at the date.
"Yes," he says. "The 27th of the Month of Awakening, Year Five. That's today."
He hands it back to her. The Aisha drops it onto the table immediately. She stares at it as if the date might still change it before her eyes.
We have been waiting for you.
"No," she says quietly. "Oh, no." It does not seem improbable. After her trip through the woods, she feels changed. She is changed. But she didn't think something so mundane as the date would change with her.
Biblius frowns at her, the eggs forgotten. "What?"
"It... it was Year Six when I left home," Anna says. "The middle of February. That's the same. But..."
The Ixi stares at her. "But?"
But the trees have no notion of time. Remembering that wild ride, the Aisha again feels herself swept up into the treetops and down into the lowest tendrils of root. Up into the air with the birds and down with the worms into the ground.
"But it's a year earlier now," she whispers.
The fried eggs sizzle on the cooktop, abandoned, as Biblius stares.
"Faerie magic?" he asks at last. "I have heard--read, that is--about Faerie magic."
Anna shakes her head. "Something..."--Something wilder--"Something else. Not Faeries. Some kind of magic, though." Faeries, she knows, are all glitter and sparkle, all show and no substance. What happened in the forest is something more substantial than she has ever felt in her life, and yet as light and weightless as air. Effortless, yet powerful. It isn't something she can describe.
"Do you have any idea what?" He adjusts his spectacles, the intellectual's curiosity piqued.
"I..." She thinks again of the glory. Of the way she saw everything with her eyes closed tight. "No. Maybe. I don't know. It's... private." She glances up at him, and sees the disappointment in his face before he smoothes it away.
"Well." He tends to the fried eggs. They are burnt around the edges. He has forgotten to make the rest of breakfast, Anna notices as he puts the eggs on plates, but she doesn't mention it. "Today is one of the days we have where we may petition the king. I don't know what you would ask--"
"Neither do I," Anna says, laughing suddenly, wildly. "King Hagan, your Majesty, I come from the future. Please, send me back." Would he even know how? Probably not, she thinks.
Biblius looks at her over his spectacles. "About the future--I'm just wondering--is it better then than now? Is it more peaceful--"
The Aisha shakes her head. "I don't know. It's only a year later. There's a war on at that time, too. Between Meridell and someone else. Kass, maybe--all I do know is that Meridell wins the war that it's in right now." Under what conditions, though? She can't remember her history lessons. "Something happens... but I don't remember what. I'm sorry. And we don't learn Brightvalian history," she adds apologetically.
The Ixi laughs. "That's something that hasn't changed, then. We're still at odds?"
"Yes." Anna glances away and looks for something to change the subject. Her plate of eggs catches her eye. "Where do you keep your silverware?"
"Oh! Of course." Biblius almost leaps up to get forks and knives for both of them. "I'm sorry, it's just--I've never met someone who's time traveled before."
Anna smiles. "I haven't either." A memory of a forest... It didn't feel like traveling through time. Or even space, if it comes to that. But what it did feel like, she isn't sure. Nothing that she's ever experienced; she knows that much.
She takes the proffered fork and knife from the Ixi and digs into her eggs, surprised at how hungry she became overnight. There isn't enough food to fill her stomach completely, but enough to stave off hunger for another few hours, and despite the crispy edges, they are good.
"I suppose," she says slowly, "I should go and ask the King for his advice." She glances up. "I was intending to anyway. But, well--even in Meridell he's known as wise. Though we've put our own spin on it." Anna is already doubting some of what Meridell says about Brightvale, but some of it seems spot on. "What harm can it do, anyway?"
Biblius nods. "You know the way?" he asks.
"It's just up the hill," the Aisha says. She nods back. "Yes. I do."
She leaves a few minutes later, and Biblius sits on his own in the kitchen, frowning out into the sunlight. From the future, he thinks. He has no reason to doubt her. She seems too sane to be mad, and if the Aisha is lying, she is a phenomenal actress.
Time travel? Is that even possible?
The Ixi gets up slowly, clears the table, and then goes to do what he does best: research.
To be continued...