“Happy birthday, Dionne!”
The oval shaped dining table barely fit the entire Archer family. Dionne was at the head of the table, as was the tradition of the family on birthdays. Her older brother, Allen, sat beside her. Her father sat at the other end with her mother to his right. In between were her two ancient grandmothers. It was her sixteenth birthday today, an occasion for celebration in her family. Her parents now considered her to be an adult, something that she’d been trying to get them to acknowledge since her last birthday.
Her mother, who rarely cooked anything, had prepared all of her favourite foods: seasoned grilled chicken, fettuccine Alfredo, creamed corn, and garlic buns. For desert, there was spice cake with cream cheese icing. It was undecorated aside from the sixteen candles, but she was alright with that. Admittedly, the vast majority of the foods they’d eaten had started out in boxes or instant mix packages, but Dionne would take what she could get. They often ate take out or pre-prepared food more often than not as her parents were busy people. Dionne would cook more, but there were seldom enough ingredients in the house or any money left lying around for her to go buy them. For now, though, she was thrilled that both of her parents were home, that they’d fit her birthday party into their busy work schedules.
Dionne set her fork down on her plate as she savoured the last bite of cake. With the meal over, it was time for presents. She’d been looking forward to this all week, even more so than the meal. Her parents left the table to get their presents and set them down on the table in front of her. She eyed the pile, pondering where to begin.
“Here. Open this one first.” Allen handed her a small box wrapped in green paper with a bright yellow ribbon wrapped around it. It had been sitting under his chair during the meal.
Dionne had done her best to pretend that she didn’t know about it. She took the box and slid the ribbon off before tearing off the delicate paper. Inside was a soft box, like the kind that jewellery stores put things in. It opened easily, revealing a jade pendant on a silver chain. The piece of jade was circular, with a strange arrowhead-shaped symbol carved into its surface.
She looked up at her brother, who had a silly grin on his face. “You knew that I’ve been eyeing this for years. Didn’t you?” she demanded, a mock-accusing look on her face as she clutched the box and its contents to her chest.
“It’s why mom and dad would never buy it for you or let you get it on your own,” he replied, still grinning. “Relax, DiDi. Everything in life has a reason behind it.”
“Right.” Dionne closed the box and set it down on the table beside her plate. “Can I open yours now?” she asked her parents. At their nod, she reached for the largest box on the table, wrapped in the same red paper that they’d wrapped all of her birthday presents in since she was a baby. There were a lot of pictures to prove it. She didn’t like the colour—green was her favourite—but had stopped caring about it, seeing as it never stayed on for very long.
The box beneath the paper contained a pile of cloth, and a hardcover book with a plain, light green cover. The cloth was the customary new outfit that she got every year, but, instead of the usual gift of a sweater and a pair of corduroy pants, it was a long green crushed velvet skirt, a matching vest, and a blue silk blouse. That was her favourite kind of outfit to wear. The pages of the book were blank, a journal.
“Thanks mom, thanks dad,” she said, fingering the soft fabric of the skirt before reaching for the box her Grandmother Archer had brought. It contained her usual gift of scented soaps that she’d made herself and the book she’d asked for as a Christmas gift.
“I won’t be able to send you a Christmas gift this year, so I figured I’d give it to you on your birthday,” the elderly woman explained. “The two are so close together after all.”
“I love it!” she said out loud, putting the items back into their boxes. “This has been my best birthday ever.”
“It’s not over yet, Dionne,” Adelaide Forester, her maternal grandmother, said, rummaging around on the floor beside her. When she sat back up again, she held a box in her hand. It had a roundish shape to it. “Open this later tonight. It’s for your eyes only. Inside is a note to explain. If it weren’t getting so late, I’d stay myself and explain this all to you, but I’m getting tired.”
“Sorry for keeping you both so late,” Dionne said, standing. She took the gift from her grandmother and set it down on her chair before going around the table to help the elderly woman to her feet.
“I’ll drive them home,” Allen volunteered before either of his parents could say anything. “I know how much you two hate driving in the snow late at night. If you two ladies are ready, I’ll take you home before heading off back to my dorm.”
As soon as they were out the door, Dionne got her presents up to her room with her father’s help. He set the larger box down on her bed and turned to give his daughter a hug.
“I know you’re sixteen years old now, but I don’t want you to forget that you’re still my little girl and you always will be,” he told her, petting her head.
“Thanks, dad,” she replied, trying to keep the tears from her eyes. A stoic man, her father was only emotional when it was important.
He gave her a last squeeze. “Sleep well, princess. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Alone at last in her attic bedroom, she set the round box Nana Forester had given her on her desk. Puzzled, she unwrapped it and removed the lid. Nestled in a layer of soft, light green fabric was a round, ornate mirror. It looked like an antique. The pewter frame was polished but worn. A stylized woman’s head rested at the top of the mirror with curved ribbons forming the rest of the frame. She took it out and set it on the desk beside the box and took out the note hidden beneath it.
My dearest Dionne. Congratulations on your sixteenth birthday. I should have given this to you on your fourteenth birthday, but I saw no reason to; however, there is a need to do so now. I regret the necessity of disrupting your peaceful life, but you are needed. When you are alone and are certain you won’t be disturbed, look into the mirror and call upon Laira. She will answer you and give you further instructions. I’ve already written more than I should have. If this should fall into the wrong hands, it could be disastrous.
Dionne sat back and stared at the note. Well, mother had always warned me that Nana Forester was a little odd. What does she mean, it could be disastrous? And what’s this business about looking into the mirror and asking for a person? That’s just fairy stories, like the one she used to tell Allen and me when we were little. She sighed and looked at the mirror. Well, it’s a nice mirror at any rate. Even if Nana has gone off her rocker a little.
Shaking her head, Dionne put her pyjamas on. She decided then to hide the box under her bed. Her mother snooped every so often, but it was understood that under the bed was to be left alone. Confident that they were safe, she went to bed.
Dionne was early getting to school, as usual for her. She lived in the nearby Arcadia Housing District, so it was easy enough. The students of Elysium Valley High trickled into the building, yawning. It was still early in the morning and the wind was bitter, typical for a winter’s morning. For that same reason, she’d left her almost floor length green winter jacket on but removed her toque, mittens, and scarf and put them in her bag. The jacket was school issued and was part of the winter version of the school’s mandatory uniform. Over the left breast was a patch with the school crest. Edged in purple, it depicted a white tiger on a white background with the school motto Vincit Omnia Veritas stitched in grey lettering outlined in green. The motto translated to ‘truth conquers all’.
Everything about the school was tiger themed from its mascot, student body newspaper, sports teams, and even their various bands wore white and grey uniforms.
Fortunately, the school uniform had better colours than that. Girls wore a green skirt with a grey stripe near the bottom and there was a green sailor style scarf around their necks. The short-sleeved shirts sported a purple stripe near the bottom of each sleeve and there was a purple vest to wear over the shirt. They could wear a green jacket if it was too cold in the building. A grey tie and grey socks with a green stripe around the top completed the uniform. Dionne preferred to wear the knee-high version of the socks. During the winter, they could wear grey stockings. Everyone—boys and girls—wore black shoes, though the style was up to the individual. It was one of the few things they could choose for themselves.
Thinking about the rules, she checked to make sure her new pendant was tucked away under her shirt. It was technically against the rules, but as long as the chain was long enough and it stayed hidden, the administration allowed it.
She sat down at a table in the cafeteria far from the door with a disposable mug of hot Earl Grey tea—her favourite beverage—in her chilly hands. It was far too hot to drink just yet, but it was warming her hands nicely.
“Morning, Di!” a sleepy voice greeted from behind.
Without looking up, Dionne could guess that the owner of the voice was her long-time friend, Cory Davis.
A rustling sound indicated that someone had joined her at the table. A glance up confirmed the girl’s identity. Dionne smiled despite herself. Cory’s glasses were fogged still; she’d just come in from the outside. Her hair was dishevelled, though it was hard to tell if it was from wearing her toque or if she’d just forgotten to brush it that morning. If the school hadn’t had a mandatory uniform, she knew that Cory would dress as she preferred in faded overalls and a bulky hooded sweater. In contrast to her boyish friend, Dionne preferred to wear long skirts and blouses.
“Morning, Cory,” she replied, sighing.
“Why the long face, Di?” she asked, concerned. “I thought you’d be happy about it being your birthday and all.”
She shook her head. “I wonder sometimes. I think my Nana’s lost her mind. She gave me a nice present, but it had this weird note with it and she told me to open it in my room when I was alone.”
“Oh? What was it?”
“An antique mirror.”
“Huh.” Cory pondered that for a moment. “Well, your Grandma Forester has always been the weird one in your family, so this doesn’t surprise me. Remember the stories she used to tell you?”
Dionne shuddered. “Mom had to make her stop because they gave me terrible nightmares. For some reason, that made Nana happy, but she stopped.”
“Happy about the nightmares? Weird.”
“What’s weird?” a new voice asked.
“Your hairstyle, Hatemi,” Cory drawled without turning around. She took her glasses off to clear the lenses.
The girl made a face, “You can’t even see it through my hat.”
“So? We know it’s bound to be odd.”
“Hmpf! Just because you have the fashion sense of a twig doesn’t mean that you can go around ridiculing other people’s.”
“Oh come on. It’s so much fun!” Cory grinned. “You make such an easy target.”
“We’d better get to class or we’ll be late. Mr. Parker is always such a grump in the cold weather and will take any excuse to snap at us,” Hatemi reminded them.
Grudgingly, the other two girls got up and headed for class. Their first class of the day was on the main floor of the building and a short distance from the table they’d just been at. They took their seats at their desks in the middle of the row against the left wall. Hatemi took her hat off then, proving Cory’s earlier statement.
Hatemi’s blond hair was tied up in a pair of buns with her bangs hanging in chunky sections down in her face. Unlike most people, Hatemi wasn’t wearing the long, thick jacket that went with the winter version of the school uniform. She was the only one in the class who wasn’t wearing it, in fact.
Dionne sighed. “Hatemi, aren’t you cold?”
Cory looked at her over the rim of her glasses. “Hatemi just doesn’t feel the cold the way we do. All she has to do is stare at the Prince and it warms her up.”
The ‘Prince’ Cory was referring to was Kousei Prince, the most popular boy in school. Hatemi blushed at the mention of his name. Almost every girl in the school—and even a few from their rival schools—had a crush on him despite his refusal to date anyone.
The boy in question always sat up close to the front of the classroom with his two friends: Yan Diamono and Teir Whitmore. Today was no different. Dionne spotted Kousei sitting up two rows from the front in the centre seats. He was an attractive boy—even Dionne had to admit it even though he wasn’t her type. Since the beginning of the school year, he’s taken over as captain of the baseball and basketball teams, a position rarely occupied by someone in their second year. It was tenuous at best as his grades weren’t as high as the coaches would have liked. He kept the spot due to Teir’s tutoring. He enjoyed a friendly rivalry with a boy from Khun Lun High School named Corentin Blair.
Despite the teasing his unusual name generated, Teir was the top student in school. It was said that Teir was the only reason that Kousei sat so close to the front. He preferred to be in the back, but Teir claimed that he heard the teacher better and could get better notes this way.
Yan was the strange one of the trio. He was very artistic and not so good in classes about other subjects. If he hadn’t had Teir to help him, he’d be in danger of failing most of his classes. He was a budding actor and dancer with a hobby in photography. He hated classes that took him away from that. Unfortunately for him, that was everything. He tolerated things like science and social studies, as science at least had some relevance to dancing—muscle movements and such—and social studies helped him learn about the cultures behind the dancing he loved so much.
Teir already had his books open and his pen poised and ready to take notes, even though class wouldn’t start for another five minutes.
Mr. Parker walked in then and started class. Dionne and Hatemi scrambled to get their books out while Cory opened hers and wrote the date in neat letters at the top of the first blank page. Dionne sighed. Somehow, she felt that this was going to be a long day.
After the last class ended, she headed down to the cafeteria, spotting Hatemi and Hana deep in conversation. Hana’s long black was bound up in a bun behind her head with trailing wisps of it hanging artistically on the sides of her face. Dionne took a moment to stare at Hana. Tall, slender, with creamy dark skin, she was a pretty girl with many admirers. She often wished her skin had more colour to it. Perhaps not as dark as Hana’s, but Hatemi had often joked that she was paler than snow, even suggesting on more than one occasion that she dye her hair black and go as Snow White for Halloween.
The closer Dionne got to them, the more apparent it became that they were ‘discussing’ something from the social studies class they’d just gotten out of. Wisely, she avoided them and went to get herself a muffin to nibble on the way home and another cup of tea. It was herbal this time as opposed to her morning cup of Earl Grey.
Pausing long enough to say goodbye to Hatemi and Hana, she headed off. Every time she had to walk home with the sun setting and the temperature dropping, she thanked her parents for buying the house they did and not the one in Spring Glades. In all likelihood, she would have wound up going to Khun-Lun High instead of Elysium Valley as she didn’t have the grades necessary to merit a scholarship to Ching-Tu Private School and her parents couldn’t afford the school’s high fees.
She pulled her scarf a little tighter around her throat. The weather was harsh for late November, even given Elysium Valley’s location in the Rocky Mountains near the Alberta-British Colombia border in the western part of Banff National Park.
A few blocks from home, she walked past the local park and saw what, at first, looked to be a bully pestering a smaller boy. The boy trembled with fear, eyes darting around as if searching for an escape route. Dionne could understand why. The bully wore strange clothes. They were skin tight and made him look like some kind of snake-man. He hissed, extending a tongue that looked forked, and grabbed the boy by the throat. The boy’s face turned blue before he passed out. Snarling, the snake-man dropped him to the ground and looked around. Spotting Dionne, he smiled and came after her at a dead run.
There was no doubt as to his intentions. She turned and ran as fast as she could for home. He almost caught up to her, but her neighbour’s dog leaped over their hedge and latched itself to his leg. As she slammed the door behind her, she thanked whatever higher power had inspired her neighbours to buy that bad tempered thing in the first place. She headed upstairs, panting, and collapsed in the chair at her desk. She looked around.
What was that all about? Why would anyone alter himself to look like a snake? He was hideous! What was he going to do to me? What did he do to that boy? What is going on here?
The mirror glowed with a comforting white light. “Normally, I’d call myself crazy for even doing this, but Laira, if you are here, can you answer those questions?” She cursed. Now why did I do that?
The glow intensified, and a face appeared. It was a gentle face, though not human. Her skin was pitch black. Long, wispy tentacles framed her face, floating around her as if stirred by a gentle breeze. A few tentacles were decorated with white tattoos. Her golden eyes looked ancient. Yes, I can, came the reply, sounding as if it came from the bottom of a well. You had but to ask.
“Who…who are you? What are you?”
Didn’t Adelaide explain? She looked puzzled.
“Not really, no. The note only mentioned your name.”
Laira cursed. That fool woman is going to be the death of us all. She was stubborn as a sehashi, and it seems she remains that way.
“What’s a sehashi?”
Sehashi is the term used for the people who protect their home worlds, warriors of truth and light. It’s an ancient word that means ‘shining light’. Before you ask, you are descended from a long line of sehashi warriors going back hundreds of years. Your mother never took up the mantle; there was no need. She does not know about me or the sehashi.
“Why me? Why now?”
What prompted you to call on me?
Hesitating for a moment, Dionne explained what she had seen on the way home, trying to be as descriptive as possible despite how shaken up she was by the experience.
That snake-man you saw earlier. From your description, I believe he’s one of the Lords of Chaos, a group that will do anything to destroy the universe as we know it. They’ve already succeeded in laying waste to numerous worlds, killing their resident sehashi in the process. They were here before, in your Grandmother’s time, but were driven off. They must think we’re defenceless. If one of them is out attacking, then they’re set up and ready to destroy Earth.
That pendant you wear is the key to activating your sehashi uniform. All you have to do is think about changing.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Laira looked at her. Please, listen to me. Adelaide must have felt the Lords coming. She’s too old to fight; it would kill her if she tried. We need to find others with the power of the sehashi.
“I don’t believe a word of this. Do I look like I belong in a magical girl anime?”
The pop culture reference went right past Laira. If you don’t believe me, try changing. If I’m telling the truth, you will see soon enough. If nothing happens, then you are not who we thought you were.
“Fine, I’ll try,” Dionne sighed. Change…
There was a brief flash of light and Dionne’s clothing changed. In place of her previous clothes were a sleeveless top, shorts, boots, and gloves. The shirt and shorts were navy blue. The shirt had a band of light green around the neck and another right above her bust. In between the two bands was a swatch of yellow cloth. The top was pointed downwards from just under her bust on the sides and ended in a rounded v just above her belly button. The shorts were cut at a slight downward angle from her left hip. A thin yellow band ran along the top of the shorts. On her left hip the band had a section of green fabric hanging from it that cupped the outside of her leg. It wasn’t as long as the shorts were. She wore loose, fingerless gloves that went up to her elbows. On her feet she was now wearing yellow knee-high boots with a green stripe at the top. The foot part of the boot was navy blue with a short chunky heel.
“This thing looks ridiculous!”
Laira shook her head. Nevertheless, it is your uniform. The Lords of Chaos will recognize it and know that you are a warrior to be reckoned with.
“Great. Just great. Does this mean I need some kind of code name, too?” Dionne sighed. “I guess I’d better think about that. So now what?”
Laira smiled at her. You won’t have to worry about people recognizing you. It’s something about the uniform that prevents it. I’ve never been clear on exactly how, but we’re generally so grateful for the masking effect that we don’t often think to find out how it’s accomplished. Well, now we talk about your powers.
“Powers?” she asked, cringing. “Why is this happening to me?”
Laira ignored the question. I don’t know what form your powers will take or what keywords will call them into action. All I can tell you is that when you’re ready for them, you’ll know what to do. They react on instinct and how you’ve grown as a person. They’ve also acted up in stressful situations. We often find sehashi that way.
“So now you want me to go and fight that snake-man, right?” a tinge of fear entering her voice.
Don’t worry. I’ll be with you.
“I can’t take a mirror with me.”
I can ride in your pendant for a time, Laira told her. It’s not my preferred manner of guiding you, but you’re untrained. You need all the help you can get. With that, the light wisped out of the mirror and collided with Dionne. Her pendant felt warm against her skin.
Now, go out and find him, Laira’s voice whispered in her ear.
Reluctantly, she left her room, glad now that Allen had moved out on his own a few months ago and that her parents were both going to be working late tonight. That way, no one could see her like this. If what Laira said about people not being able to recognize her was true, she didn’t want to risk trying to explain to anyone why there was a stranger in their house.
By now, it was dark out, but she had no trouble finding the snake-man. The snow in front of her house was all churned up from his struggle with the dog. She followed the footprints, being careful not to lose them in the spaces between the street lights. Eventually, she came to an empty lot. She was shivering by now. The uniform wasn’t warm. She wasn’t as cold as she would be if she were wearing a normal pair of shorts in the middle of winter, but it was still cold.
She spotted him on the far side of the fence around the lot. He had a pair of girls cornered. Without thinking, she ran over, but once she was close enough to recognize the pair, she stopped dead in her tracks.
What is it? What’s wrong? asked Laira.
“Those girls. I know them. Cory and Hatemi have been my friends since elementary school!”
All the more reason to hurry. If he gets to them, they could die.
“What does he want with them?”
If he’s a Lord of Chaos, then he’s got a specific goal that I will explain at a later date. I will need time to confirm my suspicions. There’s no time to go into it right now.
Dionne gathered her courage and moved up to confront the snake-man. “Hold it right there!” she said, using her bravest voice. “Leave those girls alone.”
He turned to look at her. “And what will you do to stop me?” he asked, hissing. He did a double take. “Sehashi? There are no more sehashi left on Earth. We destroyed the last ones years ago!”
“Well, you were wrong about that. What? Did you think we’d let you find us so easily?” She kept her shock hidden. Where is all this coming from?
He straightened. “Well, you can’t be powerful. You’ll be easy enough to get rid of. Venom Shock!” The toxic green stream that came out of his mouth nearly hit Dionne and would have if Laira hadn’t screamed at her to dodge to the left and duck as it passed overhead.
“Well, you have some training at least,” he commented. “What do they call you?”
“What do you care, snake-man?”
He hissed. “I am called Slither. I want you to know before you die. Venom Shock!”
She rolled out of the way, but some spray still hit her arm. Crying in pain, she stopped, holding her arm. She looked up, seeing Slither calmly walking towards her. Time seemed to slow. All sound was muted out by a single, pulsing sound like that of a heartbeat. Her vision went crystal clear. Out of her control, her body stood.
“I am called Archer. I want you to know before I kick your scrawny tail. Golden Arrow Flash!” The bright light shaped like an arrow hit Slither square in the chest. He screamed and collapsed into the snow.
“This isn’t over,” he warned, vanishing.
With him gone, the two girls came running towards her. Cory, ever the practical one, whipped out a handkerchief and wrapped it around her arm. “Are you ok?”
“Thank you, whoever you are,” Hatemi added. “I thought we were dead!”
Deciding not to let them know that they nearly were, she nodded. “All in a day’s work,” she said.
“What’s your name?” Cory asked. “You look familiar, but I can’t place your face.”
“D-,” she stopped. “Archer. Call me Archer. Now, head home and try to forget about all this. Be more careful.”
“We will,” they said, running off.
On that note, we’d best be getting back, too, Laira reminded her. You’re going to sleep well tonight.
“Provided that neither of them calls me to tell me about what just happened,” she said, getting up and rubbing her arm. “Man, this stings!”
You’re lucky that the Lords of Chaos seem to be following their standard pattern. This was a reconnaissance mission; otherwise Slither wouldn’t have given up so easily. It’s how they judge the force needed for an all out invasion.
“Great. So I get to look forward to stronger ones. You sure know how to cheer a girl up, Laira.”
Archer turned and headed for home. “You owe me an explanation of what they’re doing here.”
Eventually. I need more information.