Chapter OneAbigail wasn't asleep. She was thinking. But she'd been warned about thinking too much, acting too little. So she decided to get up.
She opened her eyes and glanced at the empty bed beside her. Nina was already gone. Abigail wasn't surprised. Nina practically flew out of bed in the morning. She did everything full-force, no slowing down. She never did anything slowly or carefully. Abigail always teased her about it, but it was one of those things that just made her smile.
The whole trip was Nina's idea. In the Taylor family, everyone got to pick an outing for the family to go on on their birthday. It could be to a performance that happened to be on in the city, or just to the restaurant down the road. For her twelfth birthday, on the seventh of January, Nina wanted to go to the beach. Since her birthday was during the summer holidays anyway, her parents decided to extend the trip a few days and rent a cabin.
The campground where the cabin stood was right next to the beach and mainly used as a caravan park, but there were a few tents, and some cabins like the Taylor family's. There was an unheated pool (which Abigail saw no point in, given that they were right next to the beach), a playground and a small forest with a biking trail, but Abigail wasn't interested in any of those. She'd probably spend most of her time here reading. Or practising her magic.
She knew she had some. She'd used it before, but often it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, like when she slowed down her fall from a tree when she was little. Now Abigail could, on occasion, consciously light candles and levitate small objects, but she should be able to do more. She was fourteen - and she'd be fifteen in July. Even thirteen-year-olds magicians were meant to have a good idea of their style of magic. Abigail still didn't know.
All magicians were meant to have a style of performing spells they preferred. There were dozens of different ones, because magic was diverse. It was just a force, so it could affect people different ways. It could be good or bad.
Abigail knew she wasn't a verbal magician. She didn't say spells out loud - well, she did, but it never helped her. Her mother Harriet always did. This was fortunate for her, because Harriet loved talking. She'd go on and on about why you need to rhyme certain spells and what language makes what spells more powerful and things like that. Actually, she'd go on and on about anything. She was cheerful, extroverted and optimistic, but she had ambition and determination unlike anyone in their family, and getting in her way was always a bad idea.
Abigail's best guess was that she was some kind of elemental or natural magician, like her father Alex, who drew energy from his surroundings, particularly plants or forces of nature. When she was little, Abigail thought that if he drew too much power then everything around him would wither and die. But if anything, he brought new life into his surroundings when he used them to power a spell.
Alex had tried show Abigail how to find your spirit animal through a form of meditation a few times, but she had trouble "clearing her mind" and "focusing her energy," which meant that she couldn't get more than a glimpse of a silhouette. 'It's some kind of bird, I think.' Abigail had said. 'It definitely had wings.' Needless to say, Nina didn't even try and see hers. Nina didn't just "focus" on things. Except soccer.
Nina was a vessel magician. They were easy to identify - they were well-rounded, quick learners, not usually particularly powerful, and had to use a magical item or "vessel", such as a wand or a talisman, for casting spells.
For her whole life, Abigail had always wanted to be like either of her parents. Creative and confident, like her mother, or calm and thoughtful, like her father. Nina was lucky. She combined Harriet's assertiveness and social intelligence with Alex's sensibility and gentleness. She was determined but laidback, social but independent. She seemed to have everything going for her.
Abigail was quiet, nerdy and imaginative. She didn't look like a stereotypical magician. She looked like a regular teenage girl - well, she was tall, but not so tall that she stood out. She had dark, shiny hair and olive skin. Nothing about her looked mystical or witch-like, except for her eyes. They were green on the outside and brown around her pupils, and they had a mysterious, unfocused look to them, as though she was either daydreaming or plotting. Which she usually was.
Yawning, she rolled out of bed, got dressed and pulled out her bag of magical supplies. For the trip, Abigail had brought a deck of tarot cards, carvings of magical symbols and a binder book filled with basic spells. She had to be careful about where she attempted magic, as the Code deemed that spells should not be cast in front of non-magicians unless it was an emergency, i.e. someone's life was in danger.
The Code was an international set of magician's "laws" set up about three centuries ago, and it covered things like not using magic as a weapon, to cheat or to increase your wealth. It was enforced by the Guardians, a kind of police force responsible for tracking the use of magic, and while you could probably get away with breaking the Code once or twice, most magicians wouldn't risk it.
Term 3 of the Code dictated that regular people should know as little about magicians as possible - partly so they did not feel inferior, partly to restrict the usage of magic and make it easier to track, but mostly for safety.
Sometimes, normal people's minds were just too, well - normal. Spells didn't usually just happen - there was almost always some weird side-affect, some glow, some sound. These could come off as a shock to normal people, because that they simply couldn't make any sense of them. 'It's not that they're dumb.' Harriet said, 'it's just that their brains haven't adapted to be comfortable around magic. It causes a panic amongst them, because they always gossip to one another about it. In extreme cases, witnessing a spell leads to madness. But that's incredibly rare. It doesn't hurt to be safe, however.'
Abigail tried to do a spell to make her lamp turn itself on. Nothing happened, as per usual. She was getting really frustrated with herself. Sometimes, she wondered if she was magic at all - maybe her parents secretly cast the spells for her, to give her confidence. It's the kind of thing parents did. But if it was their magic the whole time, then they certainly weren't helping.
She decided to leave magic for later. She was hungry.
As she headed down to the kitchen, she noticed that the cabin was empty - her parents and Nina must've already left. Maybe they were at the beach already - but Abigail didn't understand why they'd leave without her. Usually, if she slept in, they wouldn't leave without her - they woke her up and gave her a hard time until she got ready and joined them.
By the time Abigail was full and ready to leave the cabin, her family still hadn't shown up. She went outside in the hopes that they'd show up.
She was struck immediately by how bitter-cold it was. It didn't seem anything like a summer day. That was Australian weather for you: most of the time summer was boiling hot, but sometimes it was hardly like summer at all, particularly down south. So naturally, no one was in the pool today. Abigail scanned the beach, but she couldn't see anyone except for a surfer or two - and no one in her family knew how to surf.
Abigail started to wander around the campground. She was getting nervous. Sure, she'd spent a few hours alone, but that was at home, and she always knew where everyone was, knew when they'd be coming back. This was different. She didn't know how long she'd be alone for.
Both relief and confusion swept across her when she saw Nina at the kiddie playground. She was alone except for a middle-aged couple and a boy of around four or five, who was staring in disbelief at Nina, who was using the playground as a sort of parkour course, jumping and vaulting from various pieces of playground equipment in a way that no one but Abigail would be used to. When Nina saw her sister, she grinned and flung herself off the monkey bars. Just to show off in front of the little kid, she did a handstand.
'Nina, please don't do that...'
'Do what? Be awesome? Be better than you?'
'Don't...' Abigail broke off.
What she wanted to say was 'Don't try and show off to make yourself more popular.' But that was stupid. People liked Nina whether she showed off or not. Abigail was a harder person to be friends with. She wasn't sure she had any real friends. A few girls who she swapped books with, a few boys she talked to before class. But even those people would ignore her if they had someone else, someone "better" to talk to.
She knew her sister didn't mean the "better than you" stuff, but sometimes Abigail worried that it might be true.
Nina smirked and rolled her eyes. 'Thought so. You're jealous of my amazingness,' she joked, striking a stupid pose.
Nina looked a little like Abigail. They had the same eye and face shape. However, Nina's brown hair was always tied in a ponytail, and Abigail preferred to wear hers loose. Also, Nina's eyes didn't have the green tint, and her skin was ever so slightly darker - probably from spending more time outdoors. She was more muscular than Abigail, and Abigail was pretty sure Nina would outgrow her one of these days.
'Do you know where Mum and Dad are?' Abigail said it slowly and calmly, not letting on that she was nervous.
Nina shook her head. 'Haven't seen them all day. I think they might've left to see what was wrong with the forest.'
Abigail drew her breath.
'Wait... what are you talking about?'