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If I had taken things slower, I might have avoided that fall, but I was too rushed. It was probably a ten-foot drop, but I landed badly, plus the tree branches tore into my legs. The apple rolled away from me, only two bites in it. I blacked out.

What happened from there was like a dream, or was in fact a dream. I wasn’t sure. I thought I saw Michael carrying me to the village, his smile reassuring. Other images stayed in my mind as well, including three people standing above me, speaking, but I couldn’t understand them. The shadows closed in over me.

I awoke the next morning in my bed, no scratches or bruises. Completely normal. Except I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten there.

“You stayed out late last night,” my mother said, her voice inviting me to tell more. Normally I would have, but I was unnerved from the experience. Had Michael found me?

“I lost track of time,” I said evasively. Mom frowned.

“Eva, what were you doing?” This time it was sterner.

“Mom, I’ll tell you later, but I have to find some answers,” I said, leaving the house.

“Answers?” my mom called out as I left.

I found him leaving his house to go to the woods. Such a fine figure he made. He smiled when he saw me. But it was a guilty smile. My throat went dry. “Hi…Evaling. I didn’t see you yesterday. I know I said we could go on a walk, but it will have to be after. I have to work right now.”

I kept walking, as if I hadn’t come to see him. As if I didn’t hear every heartbreaking word. Not that the words told me anything. But the way he said them, I knew. Lily had gotten to him.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him frown, then shrug. I resisted the urge to run crying to my house. Besides, I needed to find my answers.

I made it to the woodcutter’s camp before the men did. The first ones were coming up the path. Ethan was one of them, looking fine. Not wanting to answer their questions, I plunged ahead into the woods. Again, I felt the aura of sadness. It was like the trees themselves were sad.

Somehow, I knew where I was now, unlike last night. After a little while, I even found the apple I’d bitten. Two bites in it, still. It was going rotten, brown on the inside.

Who had taken me home? I thought it might be Michael, but he said he hadn’t seen me. My parents didn’t seem too worried this morning, so I must have been taken home soon after falling. But my mother would have wondered why I didn’t eat dinner.

Maybe it had all been a dream. I didn’t have the scratches to prove anything. But the apple was there, its two bites looking at me like eyes. I felt a movement in the corner of my eyes, in the shadows.

I spun around. No one was around me. I was pretty sure I could make it back this time, but it had been awfully foolish to come back. “Who took me home last night?” I cried out in frustration. A few birds flew out of their nests upon hearing me.

“Hello Evaling,” Michael’s voice startled me from behind.

How had he gotten here? And he was coming from deeper in the woods. “Michael?”

His smile was charming and confident. I wanted to run into his arms. He looked like he would hug me, protect me, and never go to Lily. “We should go back, Eva.”

He stepped closer, still with that smile. It was different from two days ago. Not shy. He had never called me Eva, either. Only my mom did. I looked into his eyes. His green eyes. “You’re not Michael!” I yelled, not understanding what was going on, but knowing it was true.

He, whoever he was, put his head in his hand and shook it, still smiling, but this time, more of a smile that a father has when one of his children figure out the lies he was telling them to protect them.

“Very observant. I might have benefitted in choosing one you did not love and know so well. Ethan’s image could have served, but I felt you would trust Michael more.” Now his voice was different. More light, in a singsong manner, picking up on the subtle harmonies of the woods. It made Michael’s real voice seem mundane.

The false Michael stepped into the shadow of a tree and disappeared. I kept looking at the spot where I knew he was supposed to be, but I couldn’t see anything. What was going on here? A few feet away from where he disappeared, the false Michael came out, almost gliding. Except he didn’t look like Michael anymore. Instead, a man with long curly bronze hair and slightly golden skin took his place. His body was perfectly proportioned, and although he looked strong, he moved with a grace that resembled water flowing more than people walking. Michael looked clunky in comparison. A fairly simple dark violet robe covered him.

He flowed towards me. Every time he went through shadow, he disappeared. Or rather, the shadows seemed to hug him. I had the feeling he could control it, and was trying to show me something.

“What are you?” I asked, afraid, but not as much as I should have been. This being, humanlike but not human, exuded trust.

“My name is Lancithar. I am not a human, as you see. Many would call me an angel. Or more appropriately, a night angel.”

Why night angel? My mind worked furiously. I should have been in shock, but my mind worked harder in his aura. “You’re invisible in the darkness. At night. You come to the village and heal everyone. The night soothing.”

“Yes, my kind has chosen to serve yours, healing in the night so that none die, except in old age. It was not always so, but now your kin expect it like the rising of the sun.”

He was right. I never questioned the night soothings. I guess I thought the night itself held mystical properties. To know these night angels came into our houses and healed us was a startling revelation.

“Why do you tell me this? Why me?”

“What would you call the night soothings?”

Before, they were natural. Now that I knew he was the cause of them, they were “Magic.”

“There has been some debate among my kind if our service is truly benefitting you, or if we are making you dependent on us.”

“You would stop them?” The idea seemed horrible.

“Not without replacing them with something else. We would give you magic to heal yourselves, whether night or day. We would open your eyes to the greater world around you, so you could see how the trees suffer when you cut them down, how you can work together with nature and each other to build up great civilizations.”

“What do you want from me, then?” I asked, still wondering why he hadn’t appeared to the village.

“With your permission, I would like to give you this magic, to see how a human would react to it. Then we would decide whether to give the gift to others and let humans take control of their fate or not.”

“So I don’t have to decide whether the soothings will stop? This is just a test?” I did not want the responsibility on my shoulders. Surely the people of the village would want to keep the night soothings. But this night angel spoke of such interesting things that we were ignorant of. Did they have to be mutually exclusive?

“If you have the power to heal yourselves, you would no longer need the night soothings, nor need to wait until night to heal yourselves.” He seemed to be able to read my mind, or at least my expression. The wind blew some leaves past his path.

“And what else would I be able to do with this power?”

“Once you understand magic and how it works, you will have power to do as you wish. Heal, travel, gain knowledge, or make yourself more attractive. It would be in your hands.”

Oh, this man knew how to tempt me. I could just imagine how jealous Lily would be of me with magic. “I’m not sure. Maybe I should think this over.”

“If you wish. Although, I may find others who want to learn what I have to offer them.”

What if Lily took the offer? “I will learn magic.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said, closing my eyes.

“Just so you know, you will no longer be human. You will be something more, the first of a new race. You will be known as Evaling, the girl who brought magic back from the forest. Mother of magic.”

It sounded so scary and exciting at the same time. What did he mean, I would no longer be human? I wouldn’t be ugly, would I? But this Lancithar said I could make myself more attractive. Would I be like him?

“Do it, please.” I clenched my fists and tensed. Lancithar smiled, pleasant but with a tinge of sadness.

Flowing closer, he put his hands on my head. I felt a tingle through my body. He lifted his hands and looked me over. I looked at my hands, expecting something to happen. Nothing did. I looked expectantly at Lancithar.

“All I can give you is the capacity for magic. You must learn for yourself. Absorb nature as you journey home. Tonight there will still be a night soothing. I expect you will be enlightened. In a few days’ time, meet me here.” He pointed to the apple on the ground I had bitten yesterday. “This apple will stay here to mark the spot.”

I had so many questions. Feeling the same, it didn’t seem like he had done anything to me. Was this all a lie? How could I use magic? I wanted to learn now!

“Please stay…” my voice trailed off as he disappeared. I looked between the shadows, but he didn’t reappear. I even waved my hands under the shadows of the trees, but to no avail. He was gone.

I found myself walking back out of the forest. It was more mysterious than it had ever been. I kept looking around, to see if I could find Lancithar or some other night angel. Were they watching me? Would I be able to see them if I learned magic? How was I supposed to even begin?

Checking the back of my head for bruises to make sure I didn’t have a concussion and hadn’t dreamt it all, I crunched through the leaves on the forest floor. I obviously didn’t travel like the night angels, silently, because once I got to the edge of the forest, I heard someone call out, “Eval, is that you?”

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