Once home, Nirupa rushed to her room. She had to find that book. The one Lisa had given her, about unusual gifts people had, and how to use them. She pulled books from her shelves, piling them up on the floor. Her room was a mess, but she couldn’t find that book. Nirupa searched for another ten minutes, but it was as if the book had disappeared in thin air. She needed that book! Lisa had bought her a book some time ago, when Nirupa made objects move by just gazing at them, or did other strange things, sometimes dream interpretations, always accurate. Other people had these gifts. That’s what Nirupa learned from the book and she was so grateful to Lisa for giving it to her. She remembered her mother was not so happy about it. She had scowled at the idea of Nirupa studying paranormal phenomena, or so she said. Now Nirupa could see there was more to it. Yet strangely enough Dara had let Nirupa read the book.
But now Nirupa knew why she couldn’t find the book. Her mother had taken it. Of course.
‘Okay,’ Nirupa continued to reason it out. ‘Where does Mom take the things she despises?’
‘To the attic!’ the voice inside her head replied.
"To the attic, then!" Nirupa set out for the attic immediately.
In fact, both Lisa and Dara had said Nirupa should never set foot in the attic. But who would ever know? Dara was downstairs working on her laptop. Even if lightning struck her house, she wouldn’t notice. And Lisa was at her own apartment. Nirupa could never get a better opportunity than this.
The attic was in a terrible mess. Thick layers of dust covered the boxes, the shelves, the ledges, the baskets and everything else inside. First Nirupa moved several boxes which seemed to have been there for ages. Then she moved away the crib she’d had as a baby. She searched the entire attic. Finally she found the book in an old suitcase. She was covered in dust from head to toe, but she didn’t mind. She sat on the floor joyfully and began to leaf through the book. To her disappointment he book talked only of rare gifts such as remote viewing and telepathy and told nothing about magic practices or curses. But on the last page, Nirupa found a long list of book titles to help interested readers get more information. Her eyes stopped at the following paragraph: ‘... if you would like to learn more about the art of magic, read "Nowadays’ Witchery" by Daniel Buckly. Here you will find thousands of magic rituals, and potions, including original recipes taken from "The Book of Shadows" of the author ...’
"The Book of Shadows...," Nirupa repeated to herself. "How could I not have thought about it? All I need is in daddy’s book of shadows, which Mom has locked in the cupboard."
That thought made her completely happy. Still, to make up your mind to lay your hands on the book was one thing, whereas to really succeed in such an undertaking was quite another issue. It was unthinkable to break the lock open; Her Mom will know and Ni would be grounded. And as far as the key was concerned, Dara wouldn’t tell anyone where she had hidden it.
Ni reckoned her brain on and on to think of another way to get the book. .Nirupa heard a sound from downstairs. She froze. The front door opened and closed again. She heard voices. Nirupa pushed the door ajar and leaned her head to see what was happening downstairs. Lisa was entering the living room. Dara was behind her talking.
Nirupa waited for them to disappear inside the living room. She carefully closed the attic door and tiptoed down the wooden stairs. But the old stairs creaked. Nirupa froze not daring to make a single further step down. In her mind she could already hear her mother reproaching her for breaking the promise again.
"Nirupa," Dara called. "What are you doing over there? Come here!"
"Comin’," Nirupa hurried down the stairs and rushed inside the bathroom. Quickly she washed her hands and her face, and brushed the dust off her clothes.
Then she hurried to the living room and ran straight to Lisa to hug her.
"Angel," Lisa hugged her. "Your mom told me everything. What a good lesson you have given to those brats. Well done sweetheart!"
Nirupa, who had completely forgotten the meeting with the schoolmistress, felt a surge of relief. Her mother didn’t know! She relaxed and sat in an armchair between Lisa and her mother.
But Dara frowned and looked at her. "What’s that dirt?"
"Where?" Nirupa swallowed. She was going to be caught after all.
"Look at your neck and below the chin. Don’t tell me you’ve been in school today with your face covered with dirt.
Nirupa rose from her seat and looked at herself in the mirror placed above the fireplace. She had dusted her face off; but forgotten to clean her neck.
"No, Mom, it’s not old dirt. I just got dirty now dusting off my shelf." She could feel herself blushing up to her ears. Now Mom would know she was lying. But her mother didn’t seem to notice.
"Go and wash yourself," she said. "Lisa has invited us to go for some pizza. It’s great to have lunch out since I’ve cooked nothing today.
"Honey, be quick," Lisa said. "I’m starving. I haven’t had a bite since last evening."
Nirupa headed in to wash and put on a clean t-shirt.
There on her bed was her school bag, but it was shaking.
"Oh no. I totally forgot Miss Bell. She unzipped her bag quickly. The freed tiny light flew out like a shooting star. She looked really mad. Surely, being zipped inside a narrow school rucksack for such a long time wasn’t Miss Bell’s idea of a good time. But Nirupa was not going to apologize to her after all the trouble Miss Bell had caused.
"Miss Bell, go away now. Your behavior today was terrible." Nirupa turned to the mirror to put a blue ribbon in her hair. Miss Bell yelled like crazy,
"I hate you," she said.
Nirupa continued to ignore her and focused on fixing her hairpin. She took off the blue ribbon. Maybe the pink one was cooler.
Miss Bell was boiling with anger. The pixie did her best to get Nirupa’s attention. But, Nirupa simply ignored her, the worst thing one can do to a plant fairy. Since her fussing wasn’t working, Miss Bell tried sweet words.
"I can forgive you though, but you should promise you’ll never zip me in your bag again.
But Nirupa would have none of it. "I will not make peace with you, Miss Bell. You disgraced me in the eyes of my entire class. Go away. We are not friends anymore."
The tiny light had now forgotten her anger. She looked discomposed. She even tried to help Nirupa put the hairpin on.
"You can do n-o-t-h-i-n-g to right what you did wrong," Nirupa said. But now the fairy was imploring her. She even began to shed crystal-like tears, which, froze on the bedside table covering it with tiny transparent beads.
Nirupa now felt rather sorry for Miss Bell, but she was determined not to up. This was the only way she could teach Miss Bell a lesson she really needed to learn—or else Nirupa would find that rambunctious fairy causing her no end of trouble.
"Stop crying. Nirupa said. "I will forgive you this time on one condition—that you help me open the locked cupboard in the attic.
Miss Bell jumped to her feet and flew towards Nirupa stealing a kiss on her cheek.
"Stay here, "Nirupa said. "I will go and try to convince Mom to let me stay home. Then you can open the lock for me.
Miss Bell promised to wait and Nirupa went to the sitting room. Lisa and Dara were waiting. Ready to leave.
Nirupa clutched her stomach. "I think I’d better stay here. My tummy hurts." Nirupa did her best stomach-ache look. "I’m going to lie down a bit. I don’t feel like eating at all." Another lie. She’d way surpassed any allowed daily amount.
And knew she deserved any kind of evil that might befall her. Lying and unruly kids would have their face covered with ugly pimples. And during the nights of full moon, they would have terrible nightmares. These punishments would last until the kid told the truth and apologized. Nirupa was old enough not to believe in sleep nightmares. But maybe the pimples story was true. Nevertheless, she was ready to take the risk of having her face covered with ugly pimples. Now she had to right a wrong, and that stood above any hardship she might go through. It would serve Jane right.
"We’re not going if you’re sick," Dara said."
"Of course we’re not," Lisa said. "Darling, go lie down. I’ll bring some hot tea right now!"
This was not working out the way Nirupa had planned. She didn’t want the two of them at home. And now to add insult to injury she had to stay in bed for no reason at all.
"It’s just a tummy ache," Nirupa said. I’ll rest and read; that’s all. Mom, could you please bring a mushroom pizza for me? I’ll probably feel hungry later."
"Please, go," Nirupa said. "It’s such a long time since you’ve been anywhere together! Go spend some time without me around."
"Well, Lisa, shall we go then?" Dara asked.
"I think we shall," Lisa smiled. "Nirupa’s a big girl now. She can stay alone for a couple of hours."
Nirupa let out a breath. Her plan was working. Her Mom and Lisa left, and Nirupa waited until the front door closed, then ran to her room. She and Miss Bell hurried up to the attic.
Miss Bell proved to be the right lady for the job. She moved a few inches away from the shelf and pointed her wand. A violet lightening-like shaft of light hit the padlock, working better than the key Dara kept hidden.
The lock cracked, unlocked, and the cupboard doors opened wide. Nirupa snatched the book wrapped in black cloth and took it to her bedroom.
She put the book on her bed and removed the silk cloth from it. The old book bound in that black leather cover, with gilded edge tips and the reversed golden pentacle seemed to her grim and dangerous. Or: She shivered. What if leafing through that book were a grave mistake? What if horrible things happened? What if frightening things came out of the book? What could she do then? Moreover, Dara was not at home. Even though Nirupa was daughter of two powerful magicians, she, herself had no experience with real magic practices and occult arts. Real magic was very different from her spontaneous abilities to move objects around.
She couldn’t decide what to do. She almost took the book back to where she had found it. But her curiosity was stronger than her fear. And the challenge she had taken to tame Jane was now a matter of honor to her.
"Come on, open the first page… nothing will happen," she encouraged herself. Ni touched the leather cover with her trembling fingers. Nothing unusual happened. That made her more daring, so she opened the book. It was full of strange writings and confusing designs. Her heart sank. She couldn’t understand any of it. Ni leafed through the book several times, unable to grasp a thing.
"Hey, Miss Bell, help me out," she said to the fairy, who, surprisingly had become silent.
Looking intent, the fairy landed on the bed and began walking around the book. She jumped onto a page and studied it, but Nirupa could tell Miss Bell didn’t understand it either. But after strolling up and down for a while, an idea seemed to come to her, and Miss Bell beat her wings joyfully.
"No way, Miss Bell!" Nirupa had a pretty good idea what Miss Bell was planning. "Don’t even think of shooting the book with your color beams. You’d set it on fire. Don’t do anything. Leave it to me."
Nirupa turned the book upside down. Nothing happened. She sighed, giving up. Not a single idea came to her. She’d better put the book back where it belonged. At least Dara wouldn’t know what she’d done now. That would save Nirupa from more punishment.
She closed the book and reached for the black cloth she’d left on the bedside table. The end of her sweater sleeve caught on one of the sharp points of the golden pentacle, and snagged on the star. Nirupa tried to unhook the thread but it had knotted so badly she couldn’t get it loose. Finally the thread broke, but strangely enough the star point had changed place. As she’d tugged her sleeve to loosen the thread, the first point on the right of the star had moved leftwards.
Nirupa’s eyes widened. "Wow, the star moves!" Looking closely, she discovered, just above the star, a golden speck, which looked like a compass orientation point. She could feel her heart pounding hard now. Could that orientation mark show how to rotate the star points? She didn’t have time to think about it because at that very moment something very strange happened. The pentacle on the cover burst into flames filling the room with heat and smells of fire.
Horrified, Nirupa ran to the corner of the room along Miss Bell, who hid inside Nirupa’s bun. The pixie did not understand what was happening, but she did know fear and danger. Nirupa was numb with terror. She knew it wouldn’t take long for them to burn alive. Her fear of death totally paralyzed her. But after a few moments, she saw that she was still alive. She realized the strange fire did not burn the things it touched. It just emitted heat.
A spout of flames shot up. Nirupa felt their tiny red tongues heat her cheeks. A man was standing up in the middle of the room, between the bed and the window. She could not tell how he had popped out in her bedroom at that precise moment; but, this wasn’t the right time to deal with riddles.
He was a tall man. He wore a golden flaming tunic and held in his hand a long golden pole. At its top shone a radiant diamond as big as an apple. The flames, which had filled the room, died down in a flash. Nirupa stared. It looked as if the strange man was pulling the flames inside himself, keeping their glow and heat around his body.
The stranger fixed his eyes on Nirupa and, lowering his pole to his feet, spoke. His voice, deep and distant sounded like one speaking from the bottom of a cave.
"I am Michael, the Guardian of the Watchtower of the South. I am the provider of the unceasing energy of fire. I am the lord of Salamanders, and the keeper of the skies’ secrets. Hail to you!" He bowed to Nirupa. "Little girl, why did you summon me?"
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