Trying to create a less sympathetic main character here…
“I really don’t understand why you are dating Dave,” Tiffany said, as they watched the footballers running around the field. “Why don’t you want to date Chad instead? He’s a hunky football player.”
Leila rolled her eyes. Chad was handsome, muscular and had absolutely nothing inside his skull. Sure, he was a quarterback and had the ego to match, but he wouldn’t be anything like as important once he completed his education and was released into the wild. And if he did manage to become a sports star – which Leila privately calculated was unlikely – he probably wouldn’t be a good life-long partner for anyone.
“Dave is smart and kind,” she said, finally. Chad simply wasn’t the kind of person to understand anything past his own ego. The girls he had dated had all implied that he’d been interested in only one thing – which was true of all boys his age – and was prepared to push as hard as he could to get it. “And besides, whoever dated Bill Gates in High School has to be kicking themselves now.”
Tiffany gave her a puzzled, utterly uncomprehending look. The two girls were a study in contrasts. Tiffany was blonde and beautiful; Leila was tall, dark and willowy. Leila had never been able to understand why Tiffany chose to act dumb, or to chase guys who were considered popular for absurd reasons; Tiffany had never been able to understand why Leila took life so seriously. But then, most of the students at Malory came from families so wealthy that they could lose millions and still be considered rich.
And yet Leila had always felt a little insecure, for reasons she could never have put into words. Her father was wealthy – the fact he could afford to send his only daughter to a very exclusive school proved that – and she was intelligent, in her own considered estimation. She could charm people, convince them to help her, perhaps even to the point where she could consider a career in politics. But a part of her was always insecure, as if it were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Perhaps it had something to do with being an only child, brought up by a single parent. Her mother had died when Leila was six and Leila barely remembered her.
“Chad thinks you’re exotic,” Tiffany said. “You could go out with him; we could double-date…”
“No, thank you,” Leila said, dryly. Exotic? Her? Anyone too stupid to not look past the flesh, no matter how pretty, deserved everything they got. Besides, she had been raised in America and she considered herself American. She was hardly some refugee from a distant land who needed someone to take care of her. “And besides, how would you feel if someone convinced your boyfriend to date someone else?”
The whistle blew before Tiffany could reply, summoning the girls over to the centre of the field. Leila rolled her eyes as they jogged towards where Miss Macpherson was waiting for them, tapping her baton against her thigh impatiently. She was a tall woman who seemed inhumanly muscular, much to the amusement of the girls; rumour had it that she either abused steroids pretty badly or that she was a man who had decided to have a sex change operation to turn himself into a woman. Leila found it hard to like the woman. Sports were much less important than studies, but the gym mistress didn’t seem to agree with her.
“Get ready to run,” Miss Macpherson bellowed, just like a Drill Sergeant from a bad war movie. She waved a hand along the track, which ran around the football field and past the school, before it returned to the sports ground. “Go!”
Leila joined the other girls as they ran, silently cursing Miss Macpherson under her breath. Malory prided itself on academic achievement – the students were expected to be smart as well as wealthy – but sports were considered part of their grades, and a low mark in sports would drag down her overall average. It was neither fair nor reasonable, she’d protested to her father, yet it seemed impossible to change things. Was it her fault that she didn’t have the body of an Olympic gold medallist?
She wasn’t unfit – Miss Macpherson had seen to that, no matter how much Leila disliked her – but she was still puffing hard by the time they ran all the way around the track and back to where the gym mistress was waiting for them. Miss Macpherson didn’t seem impressed, even with the girls who had pushed themselves to the limit and come in first; instead, she simply handed out the hockey sticks and led the girls out onto the field, dividing them up into two random teams. Leila took her stick and nodded when she was assigned to a team, keeping her real feelings under control. She might have enjoyed hockey if Miss Macpherson hadn’t considered it an ultra-competitive sport. Or, for that matter, if the gym mistress didn’t take the field herself.
“Don’t let her get past you, Carrie,” Miss Macpherson bellowed, as the girls knocked the puck around the field. “Why are you lollygagging around there, Jo? Get out and give that puck a wallop! Swap goalies! Leila, get into goal; Maxine, take her place. Now!”
Leila obeyed, reluctantly. Being goalie meant that she had to keep her eye on the puck at all times, or risk public humiliation. She still remembered the time when one of her teammates had knocked it towards her, expecting Leila to slam it back down the field, and ended up scoring an own goal instead. It hadn’t lasted long – there were advantages to being one of the most popular girls in school – yet Leila never forgot anything. Some of the teachers at Malory were likeable types, but she wouldn’t even bother to say goodbye to Miss Macpherson when she left. The woman had no idea of what was genuinely important.
The puck shot towards her and she blocked it, knocking it back down the field. She would have relaxed, if Miss Macpherson hadn’t started shouting at one of the other girls and urging her to be more aggressive on the field. Leila rolled her eyes again; Jo was smart, perhaps even smarter than Leila, but she was utterly unsuited to sports. Miss Macpherson should just have realised that it was a hopeless cause. She heard chuckles from behind the wire and glanced over to see a handful of boys standing there, watching the game. They clearly weren’t watching the puck.
“Look out,” Miss Macpherson bellowed. “Incoming!”
Leila turned back, too late. One of the other players had knocked the puck down towards the goal, just quickly enough to slam it through before Leila could get into position to knock it away. The other team cheered as they scored a goal, before Miss Macpherson marched over to Leila and glared right into her face. Up close, it was easy to see unnatural hair on her face.
“You took your eyes off the puck,” Miss Macpherson bellowed. Leila stared back at her, unwilling to back off. She wasn’t going to show weakness in front of this…overpaid torturer of helpless victims. “What were you thinking when you took your eyes off the puck?”
Leila said nothing. Self-control was something she had learned very early on; telling Miss Macpherson exactly what she thought of her would be very satisfactory, but it wouldn’t make her time at school any easier. The gym mistress looked as if she had expected Leila to start crying, for she went on in some detail about her failings as a sporting student and finished by ordering her to the side of the field, where she could watch some proper players at work.
She felt hot rage burning through her as she entered the penalty box and the boys catcalled at her, including – she wasn’t surprised to note – Chad. Her head felt…odd, almost fragile, almost as if she had a headache that wasn’t quite real. She rubbed her forehead experimentally as she turned and pretended to be interested in the game. Miss Macpherson would only through another fit if she realised that Leila wasn’t paying attention at all.
“Why?” Miss Macpherson demanded, suddenly. She was glaring at Jo, who had apparently just managed to embarrass herself. “What were you thinking?”
Jo didn’t have anything like the self-control Leila had developed. The girl seemed on the verge of tears as Miss Macpherson told her exactly what she thought of her, using very graphic terms. Leila stared at the gym mistress, wishing that she had some way to punish the teacher for the humiliation she regularly inflicted on her students. It was beyond Leila’s understanding why she even kept her job! The hot rage grew stronger and something clicked in her mind. A moment later, as Miss Macpherson strode away from the tearful Jo, her gym shorts snapped and fell to her knees. She tripped and fell to the ground.
The boys burst out laughing, followed by the remainder of the girls. Miss Macpherson pulled herself to her feet, her face as red as beetroot, and glared around as if she expected to see someone behind her with a pair of scissors. She didn’t look at Leila, thankfully; Leila was having too many problems trying to understand what had just happened. Had she somehow done that to her tutor, or was it just a wild coincidence? Logic suggested a coincidence, but she could feel something thrumming through her veins, as if long-dormant power had suddenly come to life.
“You,” Miss Macpherson shouted at Jo as she struggled to pull up her shorts. Just how she’d come to the conclusion that Jo was responsible for her public humiliation was beyond Leila, but Jo flinched back as if she’d been struck with a physical blow. “Get off the field and report to the principal, now!”
Leila felt the power burning through her again, even though she didn’t seem to have perfect control. One of Miss Macpherson’s shoes seemed to kick forward with terrific force, sending her falling backwards to hit the ground again. Jo, sensibly, fled, followed rapidly by most of the girls and the watching boys. Leila hesitated, unsure of what to do, and then joined them. It was the end the day, after all, and she could just walk home and shower there. Her father might not be home yet, but she could definitely lie down and take a rest until he arrived. And he had promised her Chinese food for dinner.
The Principal ran past her as she walked into the locker room, picked up her bag and then walked down towards the gate, out of the school. Leila allowed herself to wonder if Miss Macpherson would be sacked over the incident, before deciding that it wasn’t an immediate problem. She could still feel the energy flowing through her veins, along with odd sparks of pain, leaving her unsure of what to do. No one ever developed mutant powers outside of comic books. Shaking her head, she left the school, wondering if she could practice in private. Her father’s house only had a small garden, but she could easily take a trip out to a countryside farm and practice there.
Surprisingly, her father’s car was in the driveway as she reached their house and stepped up to the door. She had never been entirely sure of what her father did for a living, even though it brought in enough money to send her to Malory, but he was rarely home until early evening at the very least. Not that it bothered her that much; it gave her a chance to do her homework and continue her private studies without her father peering over her shoulder. Bracing herself, she stepped inside and saw her father seated on the sofa, apparently deep in thought.
“Leila,” he said, in a voice that was alarmingly calm, “come here and tell me what happened today.”
Leila shivered. The last time her father had spoken to her in that tone of voice had been after a disastrous sleepover – and she’d spent the night lying on her tummy, rubbing a very sore behind. Her father couldn’t know that she’d left school without permission, could he? How could they have told him so quickly? And then it struck her that she was his daughter and if she had some strange mutant powers, maybe he had them too. He could help her learn to control her powers!
“I did something to Miss Macpherson,” she admitted, finally. Her father seemed to have a remarkable talent for sifting out lies and half-truths whenever someone spoke to him. Briefly, she outlined what had happened and ended by admitting that she’d left school early, something she knew her dad would find out even if she didn’t tell him herself. “Dad…what am I?”
Her father seemed to hesitate. “I hoped it wouldn’t happen,” he said, almost as if he were talking to himself rather than to his daughter. “Here…there was no reason to believe that you would develop at all. I hoped it would leave you alone.”
Leila’s eyes narrowed. Her father had kept her in the dark about something and she didn’t like it. Knowledge was power – and if there was something important about her life that she didn’t know, it would eventually explode in her face. Whoever had first claimed that what someone didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them had been an idiot.
Her father looked up at her, his dark eyes burning into hers. “How much do you remember about our homeland?”
Leila looked back at him, puzzled. She’d been five years old when her family had come to America, a child. It had never struck her as odd that she could recall nothing about their homeland; her father had never talked about it with her, or anyone else as far as she knew. She was American, bred if not born in the United States, and that had been all that seemed important. In hindsight…it puzzled her. She had never even been curious about her pre-America life.
“Nothing,” she said, unable to keep the suspicion out of her voice. “Dad…what happened? Where do we come from? And why don’t I remember anything?”
Her father sighed. “You were bright, even as a child,” he said, “and when you came here, your teachers asked you to tell them about your early life. Luckily for us, they didn’t believe a word of it. And then I placed a charm on you to make you forget until you were old enough to keep your mouth shut.”
Leila found herself, for once, completely lost for words. “A charm?”
“A magic spell,” her father said. He swallowed, hard, allowing her to realise just how uncomfortable he was. Her father could be strict, and demanding, but she’d never doubted that he loved her. “You forgot everything about our world.”
He saw her confusion and smiled, sadly. “We come from an alternate world,” he said, flatly. “You and I and your mother had to flee for our lives, so we came here to hide. I was already a capable magician, able to use the very limited magic here to hide ourselves from detection and ensure that we didn’t raise suspicions. You…should never have developed magic at all.”
“Oh,” Leila said. She sat down, quickly, feeling the world spinning around her. It was impossible; it would have been easier to believe in telepathy and mutant powers rather than magic. And yet something in her mind told her that he wasn’t joking. “What happened to me?”
“Every magician eventually sparks into magic,” her father said. “When that happens, there is a period when they have to learn to either channel their magic properly or risk injuring themselves, or others. Magic runs in your bloodline; I suppose that it was inevitable that you would eventually develop magic, even in this world.”
He stood up and started to pace. “This changes everything,” he added. “You can’t stay here.”
Leila said nothing, thinking hard. Magic…was real? What could she do with it? Make herself powerful, and unchallengeable? Or maybe it couldn’t be used to do much more than cheap tricks and she should keep it to herself, as a surprise. Or maybe there was a hidden magical community in this world and using her powers would attract attention. How many books had been written around that very theme?
And her world had just turned upside down. She needed time to think.
“I’ll have to send you home,” her father said, breaking into her thoughts. “You need proper tutoring and you can’t get that here. I’ll have to arrange for you to be tutored in our homeworld.”
Leila opened her mouth to object and then closed it slowly, without speaking. Her father was right; even now, she could feel the magic shimmering through her body, just waiting for her to use it. She hadn’t really meant to humiliate Miss Macpherson; she certainly hadn’t been very specific about what she’d wanted to do. Who knew what else her magic would do without her specific instructions.
And besides, it was a chance to learn something completely new.
She looked down at the floor, and then back up at her father. “What have I forgotten?” She asked, and then, to underline the fact that she hadn’t forgiven him for wiping her mind; “what did you make me forget?”
Her father lifted his fingers and clicked them in front of her eyes. “Remember.”
The memories slammed into her mind and she staggered; she would have fallen over if she hadn’t been sitting down. One by one, the memories unfolded and fitted into her mind and…
She looked up. “I was a Princess?”
“I’m afraid so,” her father said. “You are Princess Leela of Avalon, Heir to the Throne currently held by my brother, King Rufus. And if he catches you in his world, you will surely die.”