6. The Mermaid’s Milk

A little later, Ceren? woke up screaming.

Shew held her tighter; assuring her she was in safe hands. Still, it wasn’t the hands that finally calmed Ceren? but Shew’s caring eyes looking back at her.

“Friends?” Ceren? said.

Shew was surprised these were her first words, “Of course,” she replied.

Whatever unexpected drama was happening, Ceren? had found a trusting pair of eyes as a friend for the first time in about fourteen years, and Shew, who’d always thought of herself as a lonely monster, learned that a person who’d been smeared with the ugliness of the world, could still have a beautiful effect on others.

Why do I feel I would kill for Ceren?? Is she some sort of a test sent to me to begin my journey?

“Nightmares?” Shew patted her.

“Always nightmares, awake and asleep,” Ceren? said.

Shew wanted to ask her about Bianca, whom she’d assumed was Ceren?’s mother. She also wanted to ask her what the Rapunzel plants meant by ‘Burn! Burn! Burn!’

“Nightmares don’t matter now. You have this,” Shew pointed at the Rapunzel plant, which Ceren? had been gripping tightly while asleep.

“Yeah,” Ceren? jumped to her feet. “I forgot. Let’s play! Come on,” she pulled Shew and stared at the moon.

It was a full moon, but it wasn’t smiling at them the way Shew had imagined.

 “You know that’s a girl up there?” Ceren? said dreamingly.

“A girl?” Shew blinked. “Oh, you mean the old tale about the girl living on the moon?”

“No,” Ceren? said. “You don’t understand. The moon is a girl,” she ran around the forest, waving at the moon.

Helpless yet mesmerized, Shew followed Ceren?.

 “Hey!” Ceren? shouted at the moon as she ran farther in a direction leading to a lake. Her voice echoed in this empty part of the forest. “Can you come down for a moment?” Ceren? actually asked the moon.

Shew couldn’t believe herself actually checking if the moon was a girl. The way Ceren? insisted on it was inescapable. She talked passionately about crazy things in a way that could turn a blasphemer into a believer.

“Is she waving back at you?” Shew wondered if she’d missed something. All she saw was a round and white plate hanging from the sky. Maybe only Ceren? could see the moon in girl form.

“No,” Ceren? said disappointedly. “She seems sad today. You know she is a busy girl.”

“How busy could the moon be? It just hangs up there, brooding all night,” Shew knew she was harsh, but she needed to talk reason.

“No, she is very busy,” Ceren? insisted, stopping by the lake, which was more of a swamp. “She keeps an eye on the good hearted people who walk the forest at night, watching them from above. If they get attacked by one of the creatures of the night, she descends and fights to protect them.”

The idea of the moon being a girl who descended to protect people at night was insane but also beautiful, Shew thought.

So the moon actually had a purpose, to shine on the good hearted, showing them the way?

“So why are we here by this swamp?” Shew asked, remembering that she thought the moon smiled at her. “What does the moon have to do with the Rapunzel plant?”

“To turn the Rapunzel plant into ashes we have to wash it with a certain type of water that only the moon can provide,” Ceren? said.

“I thought burning something turned it to ashes, not washing it.”

“Not when it comes to my Art,” Ceren? said. “If I burn the plant with plain fire, the ashes will not work for creating my magic. It has to be cleaned with Mermaid Milk.”

“Now this is getting odd,” Shew speculated.

“It’s not really Mermaid Milk. It’s just a fancy name,” Ceren? winked at her again. “The moon has a spiritual connection with mermaids. I guess it’s because one is up there in the highest sky and the other lives down there in the deepest of the sea. I read about it in some book. The moon is capable of producing a white liquid, the color of moons, which is mixed by mermaids with water from the sea. That’s Mermaid Milk. It’s what turns this Rapunzel plant to ashes I use in my Art…”

Suddenly, Ceren? stopped talking while gazing over Shew’s shoulder. It wasn’t a look of fear in her eyes, but utter fascination.

“Don’t turn around,” Ceren? said, gripping Shew’s arm.

Shew could hear something splashing behind her in the swamp.

“Why?” Shew was dying to look back.

“She told me so,” Ceren? said, still smiling.

“Who told you so?” Shew didn’t know what to think. Should she be scared, happy, or worried about Ceren?’s sanity?

“Why don’t you want her to turn around?” Ceren? asked the being in the swamp, but Shew heard no reply.

“She says she doesn’t want to show herself to you,” Ceren? explained to Shew.

“She who?”

“One of the mermaids,” Ceren? said. “She says you’re a…”

“I’m a what?” Shew pursed her lips.

“No, she isn’t,” Ceren? talked to the mermaid—which Shew assumed was imaginary. “Joy is my friend,” she said squeezing Shew’s arm.

“What did she say about me?” Shew demanded and turned around.

With the darkness looming in the Black Forest, and the heavy layer of fog, it was hard to confirm that what she’d seen splashing into the water was a mermaid. Shew saw something flip its tail, but it could have been a big fish in the swamp. Whatever Ceren? had been talking to, disappeared underneath the thick layers of the swamp.

“What did she say about me?” Shew turned back to Ceren?, demanding an answer.

“Don’t worry about her,” Ceren? said. “She said you were part evil and part good, and that you were still indecisive about which side to choose. She rather considers you and enemy to her. That’s why she feared you.”

“How could she think that of me?” Shew said, wondering if all this was Ceren?’s imagination, and that Ceren? herself was the one who thought that Shew hadn’t chosen a side yet.

Ceren? didn’t reply. She had already knelt down with a glass urn filled with white liquid in her hand, pouring it on the Rapunzel plant.

“Where did you get that urn?” Shew was starting to lose her temper.

“From the mermaid, of course,” Ceren? said. “Look,” she pointed at the Rapunzel plant turning into ashes in the urn. The ashes looked a bit fiery like Ceren?’s aura.

Shew said nothing.  She was sure she hadn’t seen that urn with Ceren? before.

“Great,” Ceren? said, holding her urn with care as if she had just caught the most precious butterfly in it. “Now we’ve got the ashes. Do you remember what the next ingredient is?”

“Oh,” Shew was speechless, “I forgot.”

“That’s fine,” Ceren? said. “Remember I told you the first element of the Art is the Heart, which are the ingredients to make magic. The Heart is three parts; ashes and we’ve taken care of that already. Now we need sand and lime.”

“How are we going to get those?” Shew asked.

“Limestone is easy. Follow me,” Ceren? ran into the dark of the forest again.

Shew had never seen anyone so comfortable with the forest before. Usually, people were careful walking in the Black Forest for it was a place full of evil creatures, but not Ceren?. She could meet the Boogeyman and shake hands with him then walk on, or possibly convince him to fetch her limestone for her Art.

This time, Shew followed Ceren? to the School of Sorrow where she worked, cleaning after the teachers and students had gone home. Ceren? told her to wait while she went inside. A moment later, she came back with chalk in her hands.

“See?” Ceren? showed her the chalk, happily.

“See what? The chalk?”

“Chalk is basically limestone,” Ceren? explained. “With a drop from the Mermaid Milk, we got ourselves the second piece of the puzzle. Now we have ashes and lime.”

“That was easy,” Shew mumbled.

“All of it is easy, even the ashes,” Ceren? said.

How was fighting villainous plants to get ashes easy?

“As long as we’re playing, it’s always easy,” Ceren? said as if she had read Shew’s mind.

Ceren? poured two drops of Mermaid’s Milk on the chalk. She bit the chalk into small pieces, not worrying about the limestone staining her lips and teeth. She put the chalk, now powder, in the urn and mixed it with the ashes.

“You got chalk on your teeth,” Shew remarked.

“Don’t worry,” Ceren? said and started rubbing her teeth with powder chalk left on her lips. “Limestone is good for teeth.”

Shew saw that Ceren? was right. After rubbing it a couple of times over her teeth, her teeth whitened and shined.

“Let me see that,” Shew took some of the lime on her forefinger. “This is amazing,” she let out a forced laugh. She remembered collecting a book from one of the victims she’d fed on in the Schloss, and reading that toothpaste was originally made of chalk or lime.

What if Ceren? ended up discovering toothpaste?

“Why are you laughing?” Ceren? wondered.

“This is basically toothpaste,” Shew said.

“What is toothwaste?”

“Paste. Toothpaste is something to clean your teeth with.”

“Toothpaste,” Ceren? yayed. “I like that name. You’re good. Nice one. You know this toothpaste doesn’t only whiten your teeth? It also protects it from the Demon Worm.”

“The Demon Worm?” Shew asked then felt a sudden  surge of white light hit her brain. It hurt but it was brief. It made her remember that in her time in the Kingdom of Sorrow people didn’t know much about teeth. They believed cavities were caused by a Demon Worm sent by Night Sorrow. A person with a cavity or ache in his tooth was considered possessed, and the demon possessing him had to be exorcized. “Of course, Demon Worms,” Shew rubbed her forehead. “This stuff can protect you from it. That’s amazing. So tell me, Ceren?. We have brought ashes, lime, and now we need sand, right?”

“Sand,” Ceren? sighed. “That’s the hardest part.”

Shew felt uncomfortable. If Ceren? considers it hard, then it might be too hard.

“But we’ll get it, right? As long we’re together, we can do anything?” Shew said, afraid Ceren? would turn gloomy.

“Yes,” she said with starry eyes. “Friends!” she stared at Shew in such an appreciative way it made Shew feel guilty. If she managed to wake up from this dream, she would end up leaving Ceren? all alone in the world, and she’d be alone again without a friend.

But there must be another incarnation of you living in the Dreamworld when you wake up, Shew. Remember this IS a memory, only your reactions are different because you’re the only one in this world who knows it’s a memory.

Shew shrugged. She knew she wasn’t the only one who knew this was a memory. Loki, dressed in the evil Huntsman’s soul, knew it too.

Shew washed the thought away immediately. At the moment, Ceren? was much more interesting than Loki.

Life isn’t just about love; friends are just as important.

Shew didn’t have friends, neither in the Dreamworld nor the Waking World. She suddenly realized that she needed Ceren? as much as Ceren? needed her.

You don’t always need people to take care of you. Sometimes you need people so you can take care of them.

“So where do we need to go to get the third ingredient of your Art?” Shew asked, more interested than ever.

“The Field of Dreams,” Ceren? said. “Myth has it that it’s owned by the Sandman.”