Which is about how the passage of time does not diminish passion, and an old friend

Yona’s youth, prolonged as it may have been with her indelible affinity for childish antics, passed as if in a dream. The turn of the twenty-first century had arrived, and with it, a persistent emotion of hope among many Eltryan citizens, in needed contrast to the anxieties and cynicisms that weighed heavily on the brows of others. The planet’s magic barrier had generously replenished itself in the past century but many remained doubtful that it might ever make a full recovery. Such concerns were plastered all over the news stations and papers, but children paid it no mind: for them, the world seemed as teeming with excitement and fresh promise as ever, and the simple pleasures of life were more than enough to make it worth living.

Yona, now a gawky lass of twenty-two, was still very much the same sprightly, sweetly mischievous creature she was when you last saw her, now living in the attic of Hearts and Diamonds and taking to the trade of street magic to aid in supporting the orphanage. She had seen countless children in those years come and go, and while it did make her conscious of her own aging, she lacked the sentimentality to be particularly affected by it. Those who love magic always remain young, after all.

Wizard Glick, after plateauing in popularity during the 1990s, had truly faded into the past as some relic of kitsch nostalgia by now. Most of those who remembered him did so with fondness, but his fair share of critics had emerged in the years to follow, especially those who were wary of extraneous magic use to begin with. Pamela, once his sharpest critic, had softened to view him as one views an old friend, being such a positive and prominent symbol of Yona’s childhood years. Yona herself still kept room in her heart for the old magician, having held onto all her fading memorabilia as well as ticket stubs for the four live shows she had been privileged to attend; but while her devotion was unwavering, the world around her had changed, and maintaining interest after a decade of relative inactivity was not a task at the forefront of her mind.

In those years between, she had traveled zones and layers numerous times, and paid repeat visits to her ancient warrior friend Ceris, as well as to her school friend Rory whenever he was in West Majonia. There is something to be said about holding only a few close friendships and nothing more throughout one’s life, as she never did find kindred spirits such as these elsewhere, despite her considerable travel. Pamela at first believed she made the whole thing up, about her traveling layers and zones so often when most can only do so sporadically a few times in their lives (think of it not unlike lucid dreaming); yet secretly she listened with rapt attention as little Yona relayed tales to Lonissa of what she had for lunch with her friend in the eighth century. By now Ceris, too, had become something of a family friend, albeit one only Yona could see.

It was a perfectly calm and settled state of mind in which Yona had been called downstairs for breakfast by Pamela, whom had at long last perfected her partner’s pancake recipe and was eager to have Yona taste how it compared before the children were awake. She thanked the headmaster with great zeal as she plunged into the platter of food, when the TV was flickered on, and the news could have stopped her dead: “…as we tune in to what might be the final appearance from Wizard Glick, who, with heavy heart, has one last message to his many viewers.”

Her fork clattered clumsily on the plate.

“My friends, it is with immeasurable sorrow that I announce my departure from the public eye. Dear hearts, you have been kind to me, have welcomed me into your homes on your TV sets for many years; but partings come to all of us eventually, and the time has come that I must make mine.”

Yona’s heartbeat might have deafened her in that moment, and even Pamela had halted her movements to devote her attention to the screen.

“…I will not monologue to my audience about the time which we have spent together, as you already remember it for what it is. I am grateful for every second of it. I will instead leave you with one final trick, one last spell to impart what hope I have left for the future. Since time immemorial my assistants have made me what I am, and at last, they shall finally be free.”

Glick’s six wind-up dolls emerged from behind the curtain, as candy-colored and pristine as if they had a thousand more performances to look forward to, and bowed for what appeared to be the last time. Then, with a thrust of Glick’s gloved hand, they were dispersed as clouds being banished from a sunny sky, and their conductor fell once more into stillness, his corporeal form sunken and dejected. Where had they gone to? Why had he done this?

“My assistants have been hidden away in six locations across our universe, where a magic user more worthy of their talents than I might hopefully discover them. Until the day arrives that they have been reunited under a new master, I myself must return to the shadows, to the dusk from whence I came. Goodbye and good luck.”

With these words, the broadcast had concluded.

She could have emitted the most morose, anguished wail of disappointment and betrayal, of a childhood unceremoniously ended without so much as a climax or finale, of the undignified death of a hero who had colored all her days and influenced her life path more than any other single individual; but she was older now, and a little sturdier, and a little better acquainted with life’s unstable bookends. And so, after a despairing minute of stunned silence, Yona simply said, “What?

Pamela failed to notice the rest of the pancakes on the griddle that had charred themselves black for fear she would miss a moment of the piece of history that unfolded in her living room this morning. As she quietly scraped them into the trash bin, Yona remained stiffly seated for a few seconds of the following commercial break, an unromantic reminder that life would still go on as intended, that the planet hadn’t stopped spinning. She stood and turned off the TV.

“There’s no way,” she said distantly. “No way he’s going to just up and disappear like that. I know he hasn’t been his most popular lately…but he’s always thought of the audience first. Always. Doesn’t he know the hopes of children everywhere are still hanging on him?” she said, steadily growing in conviction with each word. “And the assistants! Why cast them out? Why make someone else find them? Haven’t they been his loyal friends all these years? What good would they be in the hands of someone else?”

“Yona,” Pamela began cautiously, “Is it possible this is all part of his act? An elaborate performance? It could be a way of increasing viewership, if it’s been on the decline of late…”

“No, Glick would never resort to something so—so cheap,” Yona fumed, more at Glick than Pamela, as her faith wavered in the knowledge that it wasn’t impossible. “He wants someone to find those dolls. I don’t know why. But…if it’s gonna be anyone, it has to be me. I’ve got to go tell Rory about this!”

“Isn’t he back with his parents for the summer? You know their line is always occupied.”

Yona was already in the process of grabbing her cap—finally better acclimated to the size of her head—and heading out the door when she said, “I’m not using the telephone. I’m heading over to East Majonia myself.”

“By yourself? Heavens, child, have you any idea how long getting there on foot will take? Why, even a train ride would cost you half the day—”

“I won’t be going on foot,” Yona declared with a grin. “I can make something better.”

Outside the orphanage, Yona took inventory of the resources around her: just a few Womp ferns would do. A tall, sturdy one was growing in their planter; another in the cracks of a neighbor’s porch. Ruthlessly she plucked them and set about finding another; just one more hearty Womp would be enough. A-ha! A robust, emerald green Womp climbing into the sky sheathed in the shade of a home, awaiting its use in her ingenious invention. She tugged at its base until it drooped down.

Wompikes, as they are called, were no original creation of Yona’s, but as Eltryan people had grown so accustomed to motorized vehicles that could be purchased in shops, the crafting of them may very well have been considered an ancient art. Resembling tall bicycles made from a network of intertwining stems and leaves, they are simply one of an infinite number of handy items that can be assembled from Majonia’s famed Womp ferns. The only caveat is that they lose form and go limp after twenty-four hours, as Womps are prone to replanting themselves after they have fulfilled their purpose.

As Yona twisted and mangled the ferns together, Pamela and Lonissa stepped outside, sensing that she had made good on her commitment to travel to East Majonia by herself. The two watched with some awe as she reenacted what they had taught her in Home Ec as a child, in the hopes that it might one day serve her well. Amidst a sea of panicked nerves Pamela inwardly beamed with pride, seeing Yona embody a skill she thought had been long forgotten.

“You’re really going away on this trip, aren’t you?” Lonissa spoke, sounding a bit foggy. Yona and the orphan children had seen less and less of her in recent years and never understood exactly why. Pamela always explained it as old age, but Lonissa was three years younger than her.

Yona halted what she was doing. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be—I don’t know if we’ll even be able to do it. But we’ve got to try.” Her weak smile indicated now was the time she needed approval more than ever before. “I don’t want to leave you guys behind with the kids…I want to do what I can to keep helping. But this is important to me. I feel like…everything has led me to this. It’s something I just have to do. Is that all right?”

“Of course,” the two headmasters began in accidental unison, before Lonissa cleared her throat, laughed, and urged Pamela to say the words instead. “Of course it’s all right, Yona. He meant the world to you—you need to do right by him, and by yourself. Just promise me,” she said, as the morning mist fogged her glasses, “Promise me if it ever becomes too dangerous you’ll come home. You always have a home here. You’ll do that, right? Not endanger yourself in pursuit of this?”

“You know I’ll come straight back if it’s too much for me,” Yona smiled.

Pamela’s brow creased. “But will you know when it’s too much for you?”

“I suppose I’ll know when I reach that point,” Yona said, hoisting her Wompike upright against the white picket fence. It was a proud creation, towering above the trio with rubbery leaves still dewy from the previous night’s shower. “Gosh, it’s hard to think of being gone for so long. I mean…I took vacations before, but nothing like this. Will you guys manage?”

“Us ‘guys’ will manage as we always have, dear. We’d been at this business decades before you were born, after all,” Pamela said with a comforting laugh. “I don’t want to keep you too long—it gets only harder and harder to say goodbye the longer I look at you—and I want to tell you all kinds of trivial things, like never to forget your hat, or sleep in strange caves, and that it’s okay to use your magic if you need to. Just…keep your wits about you, and don’t be a picky eater.”

Lonissa chuckled sunnily in agreement. “Really, you’ll be hard-pressed to find egg sandwiches this good anywhere else, kiddo!”

Yona hugged the pair in goodbyes for now. “Tell the kids I’ll be back,” she said, climbing atop the Wompike, glints of the lifting morning sun streaking across her eyes. As the Wompike wheel began turning, she sped off into the shrouded distance, disappearing somewhere down the coast.

* * *

Though it might not be the trusty steed that more conventional explorers have employed, the Wompike that Yona had assembled was a formidable ride; a little unsteady, a touch wild—the perfect companion for her travels. Her pathway was not always clear, as more than a few passers-by nearly lost their noses to its rollicking speed—but the daunting learning curve only made the vehicle more thrilling a beast to tame. It was midday when she approached Majonia’s middle, the crescent-shaped body of water known as Crater Lake, and the nostalgia of her first train ride to see Glick’s live performance many years before haunted her with its lucid clarity. She parked her Wompike by a rocky ledge to take in the unique scent of Crater Lake, all crisp and lavender as she inhaled; then with an exhale, she soldiered on east once more.

The need for a rest stop come nighttime as Yona was close yet still far from the desert land of East Majonia frustrated her, but she reached into her pockets and begrudgingly pulled out a few silver coins to lodge someplace for the night anyway. She could not remember her dream when she awoke—only how vivid the moonglow in her room was. The ferns of her Wompike had firmly replanted themselves come morning, as she expected, but felt exasperated by all the same. While Womps may grow all across Majonia, they were fairly scarce in this part of the country; wrangling them up in the manner she did in her hometown would be no easy feat. It was then that, feeling a sudden nagging urge to be frugal, she decided to cover the rest of the distance by foot.

And such a distance it was! I tell you, dear readers, Yona doggedly pursued East Majonia as if it were a holy land, and sacred manna would soon rain down from the heavens to sustain her; but alas, no such miracle would take place. As plush grass was replaced by dying brush which was replaced by dirt and swirling sands, her eyes widened at the realization that she was here, East Majonia at last!—and perhaps the oasis of crystal blue water before her really was nothing more than a mirage, or a migraine.

“I’m here! I made it!” she screeched with shameless ferocity, having little regard for any unsettled locals whom might be so unfortunate as to hear her, and the water she scooped into her paws may well have been sprinkled with gold dust for how precious a sight it was. But her eagerly anticipated gulp was met with a swirling sense of unease, as the corners of her vision blackened, and she remembered nothing that followed.

When she awoke it was evening. Her feet had never been more calloused and traveled in all her life, the air was arid and salty, and—oh, what’s that fluttery sensation at the end of her nose? Yona’s squeezed-shut eyes at once were shot open with a powerful sneeze, and finally she processed the sight before her: an East Manya woman, astonishingly beautiful with her silky black mane and ruby-red eyes, holding a decorative feather encrusted with jewels, the presumed perpetrator of her sudden allergies. She blinked dumbly and it was not met with a smile.

“You know, when Westerners like yourself show up here, they’re encouraged, at the very least, to carry a water bottle,” the densely accented voice spoke.

Yona didn’t take the sneering remark to heart. Something about the ornate home that surrounded her (and the cranky woman to whom it belonged) was achingly familiar, despite the fact that she had never before set foot in it. Was this the palace of a princess? It was certainly stately enough. She was afraid to move for fear she accidentally trigger some series of vases worth more than her entire life to topple one over the other. Then out the corner of her eye a little orange mat of fur and fuzz bobbed down the stairs in a hurry, and who could it have been if not—

Rory! I found you! This is your house?!” Yona hoarsely exclaimed. Rory flew to her side and threw both arms around her with all the loving excitement such a long-unseen companion should always have. He looked the same as she remembered, whiskers only a touch less askew, but mane a little longer, and now partly braided on his left side. He pulled away and took in the sight of her.

"Yona, what are you doing here? Don’t tell me you got yourself all the way here just to see me?”

“No—I mean yes!—I mean…it’s all such a long story and I don’t really know where to start. But I didn’t think I’d find you by passing out in the desert. I mean, oh man, to think you’re really from a place like this but went to the same ol’ school as someone like me. So your parents—“

“Ahem,” cleared the throat of Rory’s mother. “We are not merely his ‘parents.’ We are the ambassadors of East Majonia, traveling the planet to promote our illustrious kingdom to the rest of the world, my dear. If my lazy bones husband would get out of bed—oh, the stories he would tell you, the medals of honor he could show!” she prattled on. “But I am getting ahead of myself: I deduce that you are Rory’s old friend from school, correct? One of those ordinary sort of West Manya names, Yura, Yoba, Yono—

“It’s Yona,” answered the owner of the name gruffly. “And anyway, I heard all about you the first day of school. I remember now. You’re Mira, and you tour Eltrya with your husband. You guys show up in the TV ads all the time. Thanks for resuscitating me, but I came here for a reason: Rory, Wizard Glick is retiring! He’s calling it quits!”

“He’s what?!” Rory said with satisfactory shock. “Why’s he doing a thing like that?”

“I don’t know, but—he wants someone to be his assistants’ new master. He hid them and needs someone to find them. Rory, I want us to look for them together…please! I know it sounds crazy, but I won’t ask anything of you ever again!” Yona was on bended knee, paws folded in prayer, as if such a display were necessary to get through to her loyal friend. “I couldn’t tell you over the phone, I just couldn’t. It means everything to me…and you’re the only one who understands.”

Rory looked at her for a cool minute, then at the bemused glare of his mother who was still attempting to make sense of the absurd situation even more than he was. Then from his poncho, which was as handmade and gaudy as any that he wore in their school days, he produced a holographic trading card, depicting the great Wizard Glick in his glory days, twinkling in the luster of the chandelier light as if it had long awaited this moment. Yona owned the very same one. Rory flashed a triumphant grin and his friend could have cried for joy.

“Where d’ya wanna start looking?”

“I’ve got a few ideas,” Yona started, “but they’re pretty far from here.”

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