J J Hanna
Call Me Camelia - Tales of Turedor pt. 2 - Short Story
J. J. Hanna © 2021
Part 2 - Call Me Camelia
Dreams plagued Amber that night. Neither good nor bad, but different. She never awoke in a cold sweat, as one was apt to do during a season of nightmares. Nor did she find she was happy or well rested.
And the dreams—incredibly vivid, almost as if they were memories, though not her own—refused to leave her alone.
When she woke in the morning, still lying on the plush bed the strange woman from the night before had rented for her in the nicest room she’d ever inhabited, she had a fleeting moment where she wondered if those dreams came from the pendant. It hung warm against her skin when she sat up, a comforting presence in all the strangeness of this new version of the same reality.
She dug the pendant out of her shirt and looked at it, wishing it would explain itself to her in less cryptic words than the stranger had.
“What did she mean, you seem to like me?”
She stared down into the milky white interior. What was once bright red was now pure white, still liquid and shifting, bubbling the way oil clashes with water. But the reds and browns of the night before were gone now entirely.
Amber stood and crossed the small room, chancing a glance in the mirror. The woman she saw was still her. Just . . . different, somehow. A little older, a little more mature, a little more proper.
If she was going to pull this illusion off, she had to learn to act the part.
A soft knock sounded from her door and she jumped, hesitating for a moment. Was this actually a path she wanted to go down? But what choice did she have? She wasn’t going to give this pendant up for anything. What had the stranger called it? A cursed charm? A focus?
She opened the door, taken aback for a moment by the sheer beauty of the white-haired woman before her. The stranger. Her guardian angel? A demon? At this moment, did it really matter? The woman seemed to have magic, and she seemed to know how to use it. Which made her both dangerous and an important piece of the puzzle Amber couldn’t put together on her own.
“Good morning, young one,” the woman said, brushing past Amber and into the room. Her skirts seemed to shimmer in the morning light filtering in from the window. “I brought you a gift.”
She pulled a large box out of her bag and set it on the bed. Amber eyed her warily. The last thing she needed was some other reason to be indebted to this woman.
“What is it?”
“Don’t be shy. Open it.”
She stepped back, piling all of her hair over her right shoulder so it tumbled down in a torrent of silver blonde.
Amber carefully lifted the lid and couldn’t contain a gasp. Inside was a beautiful gown—the sort of thing she’d never been able to consider affording.
“You have to. The more work the focus has to do the less effective it will be. Ease the weight of its burden by changing the parts of your appearance that you can, and free up some of its power to assist you in your other endeavors.”
Amber ran a hesitant hand over the fine fabric. This had to have cost a few hundred gold pieces.
“I can’t repay you.”
“Consider it an investment, Amber. An investment in you, and the work you’ll be doing for me in the future.”
Amber’s gut twisted uncomfortably. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Call me Camelia. Now, get dressed and meet me downstairs. There aren’t very many places I can take you to teach you magic where others won’t notice, but there are a few.”
Camelia glided out of the room and the door closed behind her, though it didn’t seem like she’d closed it herself.
Amber carefully picked up the gown and lay it out in all its glory on the bed. The smooth silks seemed to catch on her rough hands. Hiding the pendant in this gown wouldn’t be possible. And she realized that may be the point.
Regardless, she stripped off her old, dirty cotton clothes, and pulled the new shift over her head. It fit almost perfectly, still providing space for her to finish growing and developing naturally. Then, careful not to drop it, she fed her arms through the straps of the bodice and laced up the front of the corset, letting the ruby red skirt fall into place around her. She instantly knew that she’d have to learn a new way of walking so she wouldn’t trip while wearing this. The fabric pooled around her ankles, designed for someone much taller than her. Or maybe this was just how dresses were meant to fit.
It was hard to tell.
Regardless, she was relieved when she found a thread that seemed to connect the bottom of the skirt to her hip. As she tugged on it, it cinched the right side of the skirt up and away from her ankles, creating a slit in the outer skirt and allowing her fears of tripping to disappear.
She pulled her brown hair over her shoulder the way Camelia had, trying to feel the part of the graceful, wealthy woman she was meant to be.
It all felt like a horrible, horrible act.
But she had to admit that now she did look the part, even without the help of the pendant. It seemed to hum with excess energy, a faint white glow emanating from the gem now.
She gathered her wits and headed down to the tavern where Camelia had met her the night before. Camelia’s eyes traveled up and down her body and she nodded. “Good. Now, once we teach you everything else you need to know, you’ll be able to fool even the most clear sighted of us all.”
She offered Amber her arm. Amber hesitated, but then linked arms with her and let Camelia parade her through the street. Heads turned as they passed. Camelia seemed unaware or accustomed to it, and she kept Amber moving at the same pace now matter who was looking. Which was a good thing, because Amber very much wished she could disappear into the nearest shadows.
The farther they got from the town, the more relaxed Amber felt. Without strangers eyes on her, the more she could forget everything she didn’t want that this pendant had given her. Of course she’d always dreamt of what it would be like to be wealthy and respected. But this? To have it all shoved in her lap so suddenly . . . She wasn’t sure she wanted it anymore.
But she wasn’t ready to get rid of this pendant just yet, either.
Camelia turned them toward a large tent in a clearing in the woods.
“What is this place?” Amber asked, looking around at the people they passed. On first glance, everything seemed normal. But with a second or third, no one wore normal clothing—men and women alike wore trousers and blouses, suspenders and broad brimmed hats. And some didn’t seem to be wearing nearly enough clothes at all, but those people were so gorgeous it almost didn’t seem to matter. Their sequined undergarments with short skirts were eye catching and beautiful, even if it was promiscuous.
“This is Le Cirque de Turedor. They’re a traveling group of misfits who can perform wondrous acts. We’re lucky they’re here now. So. Let’s begin your training, shall we?”
Camelia led the way to the center of the large tent. “It’s dark in here. Let me cast some light on the subject.” She pulled both hands back to one of her hips, curled her wrists around each other, and pushed them both out in front of her. In an instant, her eyes flashed white and a glowing white orb burst from her hands and floated up to the ceiling, casting what almost seemed like moonlight around them.
“Now you,” Camelia said.
Amber looked at her hands. “I don’t—”
“Pull your hands in. Feel the energy from the focus. And push that energy out into a solid form. Create light.”
Amber did as Camelia instructed, pulling her hands close to her as Camelia had done, trying to feel the energy from the pendant. All she felt was its warmth. But it didn’t seem strong enough to create anything with.
“I can’t do it.”
“Yes you can. Feel its power and funnel it into your will.”
Amber took a deep breath, trying to draw that warmth into her fingertips. She clenched her hands around it, trying to hold onto it as it got hotter and hotter until finally she couldn’t hold it anymore and pushed her hands out the way Camelia had.
Flame burst from her hands, hitting the dirt and fizzling out. Amber jumped back, tripped over the end of her skirt, and fell into the dusty floor. Her fingers stung and as she looked down at them, the tips of her fingers were blistering red.
“Interesting,” Camelia said, crossing to her and offering her a hand up.
Amber shook her head. “That hurt.”
“This whole process is going to hurt. But you have to learn to control it or it will consume you. Do you understand that?”
Amber took a deep breath. “What do you mean?”
“Your soul is merging with a strong magical force. The more you expose yourself to it, the more your soul will merge. Magic will become easier. You’ll become more powerful. But you have to use it. Because if you don’t, it will store up inside of you until you are no more. Right now, you and it are working together. It will help you as you learn. But its nature is to grow. To expand. To overtake. If you do not continue to give it an outlet, it will turn on you. Imagine your whole body burning, rather than just your fingers. Now imagine that from the inside out.”
It didn’t take much to cause thoughts of that hellfire. Last night’s dreams had caused plenty of thoughts of that nature on their own.
“What if I just take it off? Walk away from it all?”
“Part of your soul now occupies that pendant, Amber. Do you really want to separate yourself from it?”
“Then leave that pendant on. And learn.”
It took the remainder of the day, but after many burns and near tragedies, Amber finally managed to create an orb of light. It wasn’t white like Camelia’s, but it was light nonetheless. Flame flickered within the glass-like bubble, floating around to Amber’s whim.
In the red orange firelight, Camelia’s sharp features looked even more frightening than usual. She was gorgeous in the dangerous way. In all appearances she was human. But the longer Amber spent with her, the less certain she was.
At the end of the night, they stayed and watched the Cirque perform. And it was beautiful, and odd, and comforting and disturbing all at once. There were others who called forth flame, light, electricity and water at will. Others changed form before their eyes. Still others dove through flaming hoops or fell from the ceiling height only to land on their feet, unaffected by the distance.
Whoever these people were, Amber wanted to know them. Because they were strange, and probably dangerous. But they were also anomalies. And if anyone was going to understand the danger she’d walked into, perhaps it would be one of them.
Turedor was a large country, and she’d only seen a small portion of it. But these people seemed to have traveled almost all of it. Maybe, if she was really lucky, they’d be able to help her more than Camelia could.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in anyway. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her cuddling with a cat, drinking a caffeinated beverage, and watching one of her favorite shows. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.