A throat becomes hoarse after calling out above the din of some hundreds of people so many times, and Pamela was now beginning to wonder just where this girl had come from, if she even had a point of origin.
After they had walked far enough away from the relentless noise of the dock and its dim echoes on the water, Pamela observed that the Manya child seemed completely content to be on her own, not showing the signs of distress one so young would be expected to when separated from a guardian in a busy crowd.
“Have you anyone to look after you, anyone at all?” Pamela asked, somewhat incredulously.
“I look after myself,” came the chirpy reply, in a voice that scratched like a rock in the older Manya’s slippers. “I’ve always been by myself.”
That couldn’t be right, because surely, everyone has someone at some point. “Well, where do you live?”
“Anywhere I like,” the girl confidently responded.
“Do you have a name, then? What can I call you, if you don’t have parents and don’t come from anywhere?”
“Yona, I’ve always known myself as Yona.” She—Yona—had a rather proud look when declaring this, swaying her arms at her sides and adding a little more spring to her step.
They walked on towards the Hearts and Diamonds orphanage, where these confusing matters could hopefully be set right.
Lonissa—the other headmaster, and Pamela’s lifelong friend and companion—was stood there at the door, possibly sensing that something had gone awry this Cresha birth; or more likely, she too had witnessed the abnormally gargantuan starfall that nearly struck a small child. Pamela picked up her pace at the sight of her and Yona followed suit.
The look on Lonissa’s face was one of concern, but decidedly not fear, as she, being Pamela’s true opposite, was generally of too calm a disposition to be concerned by anything less than the orphanage catching fire; and even then, she might display a more clear-headed demeanor than most in the situation could. She studied the child with some curiosity, thinking it an odd night for someone to put their kid up for adoption, then spoke:
“Something monumental happened, didn’t it?”
Pamela nodded, somewhat shakily, remembering her words from earlier that morning—Something monumental will happen tonight, Lonissa. She had sensed it, perhaps from her magic, or just her own intuitive powers, but deep down she did not expect to be right.
“There was a star,” she started, after catching her breath, “a star much bigger than any Cresha birth star has any right to be, and it nearly hit this girl.”
Yona looked up at Lonissa with an oddly synchronized grin, the two of them sporting a certain defiant giddiness that was nothing like the rather pensive frown that commonly adorned Pamela’s face.
“I’m Yona, and I’m not lost or anything,” the child piped up, extending a paw to be shaken. Lonissa did so with no hesitation.
“Hullo there,” the younger of the two headmasters smiled. “And I’m Lonissa.”
“The problem is, she says she has no parents, no guardian, and that just can’t be right,” Pamela said, her mounting concern disproportionate to that of anyone around her. “We should phone the local authorities, and ensure no one is searching for their missing child.”
“I figured you’d say that,” Lonissa said rather casually. “I’ll go take care of it. Why don’t you give little Yona a bath? She looks dirty, and her clothes are covered in moth holes.”
Pamela, perhaps courtesy of the pale street lights they had been traveling by, had not even noticed just what a sorry state Yona was in; and as Lonissa was already inside to place a phone call, was remiss to mention the bizarre color change Yona underwent shortly after their meeting. Would it happen again, or had she imagined it?
As Pamela set foot inside the orphanage, it occurred to her just how late at night it was, wondering how it was possible time slipped past her so trickily. This came with it the looming realization that the children of the orphanage were wide awake and stalking indiscreetly over the handrail as they often did when Pamela was asleep or out of the house, wondering what Lonissa so urgently needed to place a phone call for. They all swiftly dispersed the moment their eyes met Pamela, of course, fearing that a punishment might be on the horizon for staying up past their bedtimes. She let out a heaving sigh, wondering how anyone was going to be awake in time for their schooling tomorrow with all this commotion.
She walked past Lonissa and down the hallway adjacent to the kitchen, where the bathroom—which had hopefully been cleaned earlier—awaited them.
“I don’t want a bath,” Yona mumbled.
“When was the last time you took a bath, child?” Pamela asked.
“I never took one.”
Pamela’s nose quirked at the mere suggestion of this. “How old did you say you were?”
Yona slowed her steps, as if to gather her thoughts. “Five, at least I think.”
“Five years? Five long years of no baths, and no parents? And I can only assume no schooling, either?” Pamela gasped, the horror of the situation building inside of her. “You’re either playing a very nasty trick on me, or you have been horribly neglected.”
She opened the door to the bathroom, and much to her relief, it was clean and orderly—Lonissa must have tended to it while she was out, as it didn’t get done earlier. She set out a fluffy white towel, not terribly big but big enough, and opened a bottle of bubble bath to pour near the drain, intending to do whatever she could to make this as painless an experience as possible.
“A bath is just getting in water, right? Will it be cold?” Yona said, sounding rather unsure of the whole thing. “‘Cause I hate cold water!”
Pamela bit her cheek to stop an unwanted grin at this. “Have you been swimming before?”
“I had to swim a long time, once,” she said rather seriously, sitting over the edge of the tub as it filled with bubbly water. “I don’t know where I was going to, but the ocean was cold.”
How much of Yona’s words, Pamela wondered, were the result of a cruelly tragic abandonment at an early age, or simply the work of an overactive imagination?
“Alright, little one, I’m going to bathe you, so you must get undressed. It will feel much better to finally be clean, you’ll see.” Pamela had to muster all her courage to say this, knowing very well it would be met with—
“I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!” Yona protested. She thrashed her legs and tail around as tears welled in her eyes, as rebellious as she was genuinely frightened.
“Don’t be like that,” Pamela snapped, struggling to maintain her calm. “Sometimes you have to do things even if you don’t like them.”
But Yona stubbornly kicked and kicked, and refused to get undressed. Soon enough, all that kicking caused her to fall over the edge and into the tub with a truly raucous splash for such a tiny Manya, still fully clothed. She meekly popped her head above the surface of the foamy water, thoroughly relieved to find that it was warm and comfortable instead of frigid and painful the way she had expected, and began laughing and playfully splashing at Pamela, much to her displeasure.
“Child, if you don’t learn to behave yourself and listen to your elders you’ll not get very far in life,” Pamela said uneasily, reaching for a nearby towel to shield herself from the soapy assault. “Really now—this is just despicable—“
Just then, Lonissa stepped into the room, looking instantly amused at the sight that lay before her: Yona, still dressed in her tattered old shirt, bobbing up and down in the water like a submarine; and Pamela, clothes soaked to the fur and glasses askew, looking as if she has just attempted major surgery and failed, not to mention the rivulets of foamy water dribbling down the sides of the bathtub and onto the freshly-mopped floor, which would now need another mopping. She covered her widening grin.
“I, well, I’ve placed some calls, but the only child that’s gone missing tonight was a little Odol boy. Bless his heart, hope he gets found,” she said, “but that’s not the kid we have.”
“Could she be from further away? A different kingdom, even? Another…” Pamela stood up, eyes large and fearful from the predicament they may have found themselves in. “Another planet? What if she could be zone traveling for the day, and is from somewhere else entirely?”
“Could be,” Lonissa shrugged rather unhelpfully. “But you said she told you she has no parents or anyone looking after her, and never has.”
“Children make things up sometimes.”
“Well, she’s kept it up for quite a while, it seems.” Lonissa shifted her attention back to Yona, who seemed to light up with increased mischief, perhaps encouraged by Lonissa’s more easygoing presence. She gave Pamela another big splash before provoking the elder headmaster into giving up entirely, shuffling past Lonissa with a halfhearted mutter of I’ve done all I can do—the magic words that mean “You take care of this, Lonissa.”
The following week, the telephone didn’t seem to spend more than a minute on its hook as Pamela and Lonissa took turns making calls and inviting strangers from far and wide to enter the orphanage to take a good look at Yona, with each of them concluding they had never seen her before, and no better people to entrust her to than the owners of an orphanage. Pamela felt that she must be going mad, to have a five-year old child simply cross paths with her one starlit night, change color right before her very eyes, and now be told she must not have any sort of family throughout Zone 2 looking for her. Though with how ill-behaved she could be, it was possible no family wanted to find her, Pamela briefly mused, before admonishing herself for it: even the most unruly child is still an equal being, she believed, deserving of the full breadth of life’s many wonderful experiences and encounters, and if she must become Yona’s sole guiding light in this world to help her see those things, so be it. She took it upon herself right there to raise the girl as one of the children of the orphanage.
Whether or not Yona would prove to be suitable for adoption was another matter entirely, however. A month passed by with less haste than usual, the somewhat heartbreaking process of spending every day bringing up and bonding with a child only to see them off under the care of new parents becoming well-worn routine by now; each day spent with Yona, on the contrary, seemed to contain within it a month’s worth of challenges for any other child. Patience is a virtue, but patience only went so far when the day’s schooling seemed to be forgotten entirely come the start of a new week, or when Yona would flee to a neighboring house once nighttime drew near so Pamela would have to spend hours searching for her, thereby prolonging bedtime.
Each time potential foster parents paid visit to the orphanage hoping to find a child that they might bond with, Yona and her penchant for pranks would scare them off not only from adopting her, but from ever crossing paths with Hearts and Diamonds orphanage again, fearing that they must be raising their children with truly condemnable negligence for one to turn out this way. But every time once-interested parties fled (unless they were particularly snooty and unpleasant), Yona did not feel pride over her actions, but instead a certain sorrow and confusion that made her wonder what she was doing wrong. It was looking more and more as though she would be taking up permanent residence in the orphanage.
* * *
Magic is a precious commodity in this world; Pamela knew that as well as anyone, having survived the ruinous Magic Drought of the mid-1800s, wherein Eltrya’s magical barrier had been dramatically depleted from overuse. This catastrophic event left many without light, running water, medical care, and innumerable other necessities—a truly bleak fifty years that taught Pamela and many others that overreliance on the resource would have disastrous consequences. The barrier had since repaired itself sufficiently enough that magic use was no longer outlawed, but she would remain wary for the rest of her days of using magic outside the scope of necessity. Those fifty years instilled in her a level of self-discipline foreign now to newer generations of Eltryans, some of whom questioning why she was still so reluctant to use magic an entire century following the Drought. Truly, it would take nothing short of a zone-wide calamity for her to make considerable use of magic again, she had often told herself. She just didn’t know that calamity would look like Yona.
Lonissa suffered from the Magic Drought alongside Pamela all those many years ago, but unlike her, took to using magic illicitly in spite of the diminished barrier. There were still many things which magic and magic alone could aid in, and to simply stop using it altogether in a society that made it its backbone would be foolhardy, she and likeminded users had recognized. As such, her attitude about magic use had always been more lenient than Pamela’s—meaning that when she was approached one night by the elder headmaster to discuss making use of it to assist in Yona’s upbringing, Lonissa was all ears, silently acknowledging from the beginning that it would be not only helpful, but vital.
And so, under the domain of Harmonic magic, Pamela and Lonissa began weaving a spell every night to help Yona wind down peaceably with the other children. Pamela had been fairly anxious for hours beforehand, fretting not only that the spell would not work but that this was the wrong thing to do. But the spell was so effective, Yona would fall asleep fast and silent within minutes every night from then on, saving the entire orphanage from the host of headaches that always ensued at bedtime. The relief Pamela and Lonissa both felt upon the realization that this worked was almost tangible; and now that Lonissa had finally encouraged the taboo of magic use to be broken, both were beginning to wonder what else in Yona’s upbringing could be made easier with it. Indeed, magic still had its uses.