Horotopia, a world much different to our own, yet the same. It had a sun, a moon and stars that illuminated the night sky. The air was breathable; the water was drinkable... it had all the qualities for supporting life. Like Earth, Horotopia had a host of species... that's where they differ. Earth was home to humans, dogs and cats. Horotopia was inhabited by witches, werewolves and pixies. It is said that a link exists between the two worlds. This theory had yet to be proven. No one dared to travel to the other world... if they believed it existed, that is.
Zaira Crystalcat was a witch. She lived in a small cottage on the outskirts of an unnamed forest with her grandmother... or at least she used to. Her grandmother had raised her from birth… apparently Zaira’s parents were powerful witches and worked for the local council that was one branch of the supreme court. A mission gone wrong had left Zaira orphaned and on the doorstep of this unsuspecting old widow… She fed the young witch, and clothed her and taught her about the craft. Zaira had felt such gratitude towards this one constant figure in her life, she helped her grandmother with her business. She had become quite talented at herbology and crafting talisman. Despite the lack of parents, Zaira lived a happy quiet life in the small cottage. However, all good things must come to an end. One seemingly normal morning Zaira woke up and made her and her grandma breakfast. She called up to the old witch, but there was no reply. Frowning, Zaira went up the old creaky stairs, wincing at each complaint, only to find her grandma’s room barren. The bed was stone cold; she must’ve gotten up hours ago. It was unusual for her grandmother to be out so early, but regardless, the young witch waited patiently. With each hour that passed, knots of anxiousness tightened in her core. When the sun began to set and the waxing moon began to rise, Zaira frantically searched everywhere within the forest but to no avail. The shop had been left untouched. She exchanged words with the goblins and gnomes who resided by the creek five minutes from the cottage but they knew nothing, or that was what Zaira could gather. Pesky goblins and gnomes always spoke in rhyme. This was when the young girl started to panic, loneliness and dread merging into a terrible pit in her stomach. This was so out of character for her carer. She couldn't believe her beloved grandmother had just got up and left without a single indication of where she was going. Zaira suddenly remembered her gran coming into her room as she fell asleep the night before... She was too far gone into the land of dreams to read her grandmother's lips...
I woke up from a terrible nightmare bathed in my own sweat. I blinked rapidly, trying to gain my vision. It was that same horrible dream that had haunted me since the disappearance of my grandmother. I always saw my grandmother being pursued by some vicious beasts that I did not know the name of… the hellish monsters would surround her and then… I woke up. The sun pierced through my paper thin yellow curtains. I knew it was a bad choice to pick them, but they were so pretty... Now every year during the summer months, my room soaked up the sun in the early hours of the morning, making sleeping in late impossible. Oh well, I am not the kind of witch who enjoys staying in bed when there was things to do. Remaining optimistic was a must. Otherwise I would have no motivation to do anything. My stomach protested at the very thought of staying in bed a minute longer. When my feet touched the cold oak floor, I shivered and quickly put on my slippers, but it wasn’t quick enough to stop me sneezing. The sound resonated and echoed, reminding me of how empty and quiet this house was without my grandmother. She always had an enchanted fiddle playing in the sitting room. It made the house seem so lively… but it reminded me of her so I disabled it. It was a painful reminder. Slowly I clumped down the stairs and to the kitchen, wondering what to eat. I was living off my savings since my grandmother was the one who made the money running the shop. I wasn't so experienced in the craft yet, so I had to close the shop until further notice. Soon I was to take a test to determine what school I would get into. Teenagers who turn sixteen are required to go to school to learn how to handle their skills, be it a werewolf, pixie, elf or witch. When a person hits puberty, their powers manifest. Sixteen is the age when the power becomes unpredictable and that can be dangerously. How dangerous? Imagine an untrained werewolf losing control, having a really bad day which escalates into a murder spree. Now, I wasn’t going to turn hairy and grow fangs, but I could feel my magic surge through me like lightening… it sometimes frightened me. Spells gone wrong can have dire consequences. That’s why I was eager to get into Horo Academy. It was one of the best schools in this realm. If anyone could teach me to control my powers, it was them. Also, some of the higher ups in the supreme court were affiliated with the academy. If anyone knew what happened to my grandmother, they did. If not, they had enough power to help me locate her. My future depended on me passing the entrance exam.
I burned my toast a little but that didn't bother me. I ate it in a few bites and drank some freshly squeezed orange juice. Out of all my birthdays, this had to be my loneliest one. I bit my lip, blinking back tears. She had been gone for so long… she may be in a ditch somewhere… I slapped my cheek hard. I could not afford to think like that. I was going to go to school and get help. A part of me was hesitant... What if she comes back when I am away? I immediately shook that thought out of my head. I lit a lantern and went up to the attic. It was so small and the dark was suffocating. I immediately started to panic. For as long as I remember I had been scared of small dark spaces… without thinking much about it, I grabbed as many of my grandma’s old grimoires and placed the candle on top before making my way slowly downstairs. I lost my footing on the bottom few steps and fell on my backside with a huge thud. One of the ancient books landed on the floor and opened, and a huge spider crawled out. I screamed and chucked a book on top of it, crushing it. Getting up shakily, I picked up the books and ran into my room. Slowly, I checked to make sure there were no more creepy crawlies lurking in them. Once satisfied, I tied my hair up and sat at my desk, opening the first book with care. I didn’t want to damage my grandmother’s possessions.
For the rest of the week I got up early and stayed up late revising spells and incantations. I made myself herbal remedies to sharpen my concentration. I only ate when my stomach couldn’t take anymore. Most nights I would fall asleep at my desk and wake up with a stiff neck. I would immediately fall asleep when my head hit my pillow. I didn’t wash unless I really had to… I was disgusted with myself, but I had to pass this entrance exam. The closer they drew, the less slept I got as nervous tore up my insides. If I failed, I would be placed into a school for rejects and I’d never get my grandmother back.
The morning finally came. I woke up earlier than normal and had a bath. I soaked in there until the water turned chilly. I drained the water and tried to get my nerves to drain away with it. Easier said than done. I dressed in my best clothes and adorned my outfit with sunflowers. I decided to tie my hair up so it wouldn’t get in the way. I hurriedly arranged it into a messy bun and left. I had only been to the grand hall once before, but I could picture how to get there. The sun was beaming down today, it did help my nerves. The flowers were gratefully soaking up the light, buzzing bees and beautiful butterflies were thriving, dancing happily from one plant to the next. I was too busy focusing on the ground to notice how far I walked. Suddenly I was engulfed by a huge shadow that completely blocked out the sun. I stared up at the entrance of the hall, gaping open like the mouth of a beast. Beyond that would be the test that determined my future. I was so used to things being small and homely. In contrast, this place seemed cold and unfeeling. My heartbeat seemed to speed up with each small step I made towards the entrance. Making my way inside, I followed the other witches to the registration desk. It was easy to recognise the witches… I could sense the same flow of energy through them. Each race had a certain… feel to me. Vampires made me feel cold, pixies always filled me with joy. After checking in with a fellow witch, I was lead to my desk by a tall male vampire with a croaked nose and a mean stare. Vampires tended to unnerve me… with their lack of blinking and breathing. I passed many werewolves and elves on the way there. Different races took different exams. I doubted very much a werewolf understood the craft at all.
I sat at my desk and chewed nervously at a strand of my silver hair. I suddenly became accutely aware of how different I looked. My hair shone a bright silver like moon light and my eyes were almost completely white. According to my grandmother, when I was a baby, I had been somewhat affected by a deadly curse (presumably the one that killed my parents) and was close to death myself. She called upon the energy of the moon in an attempt to save my life. It had worked, and I grew up healthy with no negative side effects. However, the moon had altered my colouring somehow. My grandmother tried many spells to give me normal hair and eyes but nothing could alter my appearance. After five minutes of waiting anxiously, an old, kind faced woman stood at the front of the hall and spoke in a thin voice.
"Welcome all to the Horo Academy entrance exam. First of all, good luck, I hope you get the results you are hoping to achieve. The rules are as follows: Fill in the appropriate information of the front cover. Each of you have two hours to complete the exam. No cheating or any form of communication is tolerated. If you are found to do so, then you will be dismissed and your paper will be void. You may begin."
I quickly opened the paper and scribbling down answers with my lucky quill. It’s what I used to do paper work in the shop. It was a feather from an earth dragon my grandmother found in the forest. It was such a rare find and my grandmother had crafted it into a quill and enchanted it so it would never break nor run out of ink. I will treasure this quill forever. The memory of my grandmother made my eyes sting with tears. Shaking my head I pushed that thought out of my mind to concentrate. This test seemed easy but I didn't want to jinx myself. I spent the last few minutes checking over my work. A deafening bell marked the end of the exams. A male witch collected in all the papers with a simple spell. As the minutes after the test past, the more I started doubting how well I thought I did. Was it mandrake or cinnamon? What was that gemstone used for?
I left the hall as fast as I could and got back home.
Sitting at the kitchen table, I had come up with a list of questions I could’ve messed up. The more my mind played the scenario, the less confident I became that I made it in. I decided to tidy up the entire cottage and the kitchen to keep my mind off of it. It didn’t occur to me how dusty everything was when I dedicated my time to revising. There was a pile of dirty dishes stacked in the sink. I didn’t notice the smell until now and I felt the bile rising up my throat. Putting on my apron with a flower sewn on the breast pocket, I gingerly picked up the dish at the top of the pile and started washing.
Two weeks later I was tending the herb garden. I reached behind myself to get the trowel when my hand brushed against something smooth and unfamiliar. A small surge of magic buzzed at my fingertips. Frowning, I turned to find an envelope. It was addressed to me and was definitely not there a moment ago. It was filled with immense magic. I traced my finger lightly over my name which was written in golden ink. I forgot I had my gardening gloves and a trace of dirt was left on the envelope. Wincing, I carefully tore it open and unfolded the letter inside. The paper had a fancy header to it. My heart raced uncontrollably in anticipation.
Dear Miss Zaira Crystalcat,
You have officially been accepted to Horo Academy. As expected, you had one of the highest scores and we here at the academy will look forward for your attendance at this establishment. We have arranged transport for you. You will be picked up tomorrow at sun rise.
I let out a breath that I didn't know I was holding. It took a few minutes to sink in, but when it did, I jumped to my feet and ran around the garden excitedly. I ran to the creek to tell the gnomes and skipped into the cottage without a reply. I went up to my room and took out my bag from under my bed and started packing what I thought was appropriate. How many clothes did one need to pack to a boarding school? We were properly issued uniform so I didn’t need to pack everything. It was the summer but the cold season would be just around the corner so I decided to pack a few dresses, jumpers, trousers, a thick coat and matching gloves, scarf and hat. I spent the rest of the day packing supplies until the sun had completely set. I yawned as I made my way to the bath. I soaked in the luke warm water and climbed out just before sleep could claim me. I dried off and managed my hair before slipping on a night gown and getting into bed. I would miss my bed. It was comfy and it smelled of home… would the bed at school be as comfy? I started to think of how much I would miss this cottage… but quickly reassured myself that this was the best choice to make. I would learn to control my power and hopefully get my grandmother back. It took a while for me to fall asleep. Even when sleep grasped me, I awoke in the early hours. I started to think about the academy again. What was it going to be like? What if I didn't fit? Could I even find my grandmother? At that moment, I realised just how alone I was. I didn't know my parents. My gran refused to talk about them. Apparently they gave their lives for me. I didn't know why, or how old I was. All I know was that I was a young baby. And I almost died myself.
Sighing, I got up and got dressed. I wore a white dress and sandals. Around my neck I wore a necklace that represented the waxing, waning and full moon. It was around my neck when I came to my nan. I wore it as a good luck charm. Everyone knows a witch can call upon the moon’s power to strengthen their magic. I decided to leave my hair down. I sighed as I looked down at the big masses of silver. I begged for my nan to cut it as a child, but she would say that would affect my magic. I don’t know if that was just a tale, but I believed it. My hair was nice, beautiful even. However, it was so inconvenient and high maintenance. By the time the sun was visible, I had checked my things three times. I could hear the sound of hooves approaching. I looked outside the window to see a horse drawn carriage pull up outside. I lugged my things down the stairs and outside. The driver jumped down. He was only a few years older than me by the looks of it and I felt myself blush. His hair was as black as the darkest night and his eyes twinkled like the stars. All werewolves had an air of attraction about them. That’s what’s dangerous about them. Their allure their prey before going in for the kill. I frowned slightly at the horses who seemed content chewing the dried up plants that I forgot to tend to. It was unusual for horses to remain calm in the presence of such a deadly predator.
"You must be Zaira Crystalcat," His voice was deep and husky. The driver took my hand with a firm grasp. His air of authority was overwhelming… I found myself having to hide from his gaze. After a few seconds he picked up my bag with ease and placed on the back of the carriage and then offered a hand to me.
"Thank you." I said quietly and sat next to his seat. The wolf got back onto his seat and off we went. We travelled in awkward silence for what seemed like forever. I decided to try and make it less awkward by initiating small talk.
"So, what is the Academy like?" I tried to be confident. The worst thing you could do was act weak in front of a wolf. They take the whole dominance thing very seriously. The wolf grinned, showing all his teeth.
"It is great. I graduated a few years back." There was a brief moment silence. "My name is Greyson." I tried to picture what pack he belonged to. There were a few major packs in the area. There was a characteristic that was common to each member of a pack, which made distinguishing between the packs easier. However, this dark wolf beside me was too tall to be of the lunar tribe… maybe he was a minor group related to them…
"Nice to meet you, Greyson. Um... you know my name already, so...". Greyson chuckled. For the rest of the journey we exchanged stories. The Academy sounded great. Apparently, the night staff are quite relaxed and so having dorm parties was doable. Witches tended to be popular. After all, there was no shop to buy alcohol and the students are all underage for the most part. I wasn’t sure how I felt about witches summoning alcohol for parties… I had never tried it myself and I had never been to a party. The thought of it made my stomach flip. However, the thought of being thought of as boring made the knot of anxiousness tighter inside of me. It was mid-afternoon when we finally arrived at Horo Academy and the summer sun was belting down on us. I became acutely aware of how much I was perspiring and how sensitive Greyson’s nose must be. Greyson jumped down and took my bag. I got off and stretched. My legs were stiff after sitting down in the same position for what seemed like forever. I turned to face the academy and gasped. The building looked like a palace! The building had been around for centuries and still looked in pristine condition. It didn’t have the feel of an old building but had the established aura about it. The white stones that made the exterior was blinding and so clean. I had to crane my neck to see all the way to the top. The turrets seemed to disappear behind the scarcely spaced clouds. There was something so… magical about this place. I scanned the surroundings. There were green grassy fields for miles and there was a giant oak tree swaying happily in the breeze. I saw a couple of sparrows flying overhead, tweeting happily and so care free. I even spotted a few rabbits in the field. The wolf caught my amazed expression and chuckled.
“Amazing isn’t it? Come on, you need to sign in.” Greyson led me up the paved steps and through the main doors to the desk where I was greeted by a female vampire. She was a deathly pale with almost white blonde hair arranged into a neat bun that hung at the nape of her neck. There wasn’t a single strand out of place. I got hit with a wave of self-consciousness. My hair got frizzy in the heat and it must’ve looked terrible. The vampire had a neutral expression on her face.
"Hello, Miss Crystalcat." Her voice was flat, not conveying any emotion.
"Hello..." The vampire smiled, though not showing her fangs and handed me a map and a key.
"You are in room 441. The map will assist you, should you lose your way." The vampire handed me a piece of paper. "This is your time table."
"Good luck, Zaira." Greyson turned to me and slightly inclined his head before walking away. I waved to him before rushing away with my bag from the desk and shuddered. Vampires unnerved me. Their stillness and flawless movements didn't seem natural to me. I looked at the map. I walked down a corridor to my left and found an elevator. There was a group of students also waiting. I stood at the back by myself. I wondered what my roommate would be like. Was she a witch or maybe a pixie? Would they even be a she? I doubted they would mix males and females. What if we didn't get on? My nerves were fried by the time the elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Everyone got in. The cramped space in the elevator was filled with nervous and excitement chit-chat. Friendships already were starting to form. Would I make friends? I didn't really know many people. I wasn't sure how the friend thing worked. The elevator shot up unexpectedly and everyone had to grip something to keep upright. As the ride got to the fourth floor, I got out with my bag... barely. I started to wander down the corridor. Everything was nicely furbished. The floor was clean marble. There were chandeliers that would be lit when the sun had gone away. There were large windows down the corridors, lighting the place up. I loved the sunlight. It made me feel more energetic. At the end I took a right and came to room 441. Taking a deep breath, I slid the key into the door and opened it.