I WOKE UP in Caireen’s arms in a rocking chair, “Shhh,” she said to me as she patted me gently. “We both had a long day here yesterday.”
I nodded. It couldn’t last though as a knock came at the door of my room, “Your Majesty, may I come in?”
She spoke clearly, “Yes, come in.”
“Sorry to disturb you, Your Majesty, but we just received word that King Camulus is on the march again.” Caireen’s top general, General Slane, came in with a look on his face that was as somber as a funeral.
“Any idea what his endgame is?”
“Our spies and our scouts believe he is heading here, Your Majesty.”
“Well, at least he’s not dilly-dallying,” she said thoughtfully while holding me tighter. “When can we expect him to make it here?”
“I believe it will be four to six weeks, Your Majesty. We’ll try and make that longer with our forces, but there’s no way to know.”
I shifted my body to where I could look up at Caireen, “That should be long enough to plan an ambush, shouldn’t it?”
“How large are his forces?”
“He is marching twenty-thousand troops Your Majesty.”
“How many do we have?” I asked Caireen nervously.
“Ten-thousand - if we lose no one to stopping them from advancing…”
“I need to think about this, if you have any ideas draw up your plans. I want to see you and all senior commanders in the throne room just after noon. Take that time to plan and figure out what we need to know to survive this and kill that monster.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
I looked up at Caireen and saw a nervous fear on her face, “We can make it through this,” I reassured her.
“Oh Sofia, you are indeed the daughter I always wanted. I’m not so certain as you are here. Too many things in play…”
“Well, let’s figure out that plan and get things sorted out!” I told her confidently.
She tickled me, “I guess you’re right. I bet you’re hungry though first!”
I was fed, changed, and we headed down to the dungeon practice room once more. We stayed down there for hours working on spells. Our only breaks were for her to nurse and change me. I noticed that it seemed she had almost a class schedule approach to teaching me now. First, we would spend some time practicing gathering more essence from ley lines. At this point I could only laugh at the amount I had begun with, as it seemed limitless for me now. Like at Whateley her castle ran over a major artery that would scare the other students in my class with the amount of power available. I could now tap into that without effort, and it meant that my spells became more and more powerful - and destructive.
Caireen would then move into a session on healing spells for a while, then onto wards, some more practical spells for cleaning and other mundane tasks, and then finally she finished off with combat techniques.
“Okay Sofia, this is the last one I want to teach you today,” she said to me as I breathed a little heavy from creating a magical napalm torch. “The Asian cultures have always talked about the Yin and the Yang bringing balance to life?” She asked.
I nodded, “My Tae Kwon Do sensei was big into that back in Los Alamos.”
She smiled, “This is basically looking at the Yang to fire. You always need to be able to switch tactics to something opposite what you’re doing if an opponent keeps evading your attacks.”
I nodded, “Yeah… so Yang to Fire… Water?”
She smiled, “Think further…”
I thought for a moment how Fire was highly energetic with particles highly energized. ‘What’s the opposite?’
“Ice?” I asked.
She smiled and patted my head. “Good girl!”
A couple weeks ago that would have made me blush, but instead I felt pride at being told that. ‘I sort of wish she’d even give me a sticker!’ I smirked to myself. “So, what about Ice? You’ve already taught me how to freeze water?”
She smiled, “This’ll be very much the same thing. Tell me, what are human bodies made up of?”
I sort of felt the blood drain from my face, “Water… you want me to freeze the water in their bodies?”
She nodded, “It is a little cold of a tactic to use,” I forced a smirk at her bad pun, “but it takes less energy than a fire spell.”
For another hour she instructed me by bringing in a few pigs, chickens, and other animals for me to try it on. I had been reluctant at first until she told me they were for the servants’ dinner eventually. It was scarily easy to do so with the animals. “People… They’re the same?” I said. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of bile come up the back of my throat.
“Yes, the exact same.”
“Why does this feel crueler than so many other attacks?” I asked her.
She shook her head, “I do not know the answer to that Sofia, other than maybe it speaks to a deep-down fear you have?”
After a little while longer she said, “Come my little princess, we need to get you fed, changed, and then I need to have a chat with my generals while you take a nap.”
IT WAS ALWAYS startling to wake up immediately after getting comfortable in one world, but it was even more so when I woke up in Camille’s arms instead of Hannah’s. I squeaked a little, “Shhh… It’s okay Sofia, Auntie has you.”
I groaned when it all came back, but chose to keep up the good baby act and just squirmed a little. My diaper was really soggy and I wanted a new one soon. If I was really going to be pretending to be a baby there really was only one way to ask for a new diaper, I started crying.
“Oh, shhh baby,” Camille said softly, “I’m guessing you want a new diapee huh?” She tickled my side.
My body sort of was on autopilot now and I just started crying more. She picked me up and took me back to the bathroom and changed me quickly on the changing table.
“There, all dry now!” She said to me while giving me a hug a few minutes later.
Several minutes later we were back in our seats with her holding a bottle of warmed milk for me. “Better now?” She asked when I finished.
“Ready to see your grammy?” She asked me with a smile.
I whispered, “My grammy?”
“Well, if I’m Auntie, and you’re my non-existent sister’s daughter…”
“Oh,” I said.
When we pulled into the train station, we quickly found my stroller and our luggage. I was quickly fastened into the harness for the stroller and we were off to find Camille’s parents. I could tell when she had found them as she sped up a bit in her excitement to see them.
“Come here!” her mom said and I watched from my seat as she hugged her mom and dad. Her dad was holding her baby sister, so she also got her own hug.
“Cassidy, I want you to meet someone!” Camille said as she took her from her dad, “this is Sofia!”
Suddenly I had a bigger toddler in a cute purple dress coat and pigtails staring inquisitively at me. “Hi,” she said to me shyly, “she’s a wittle baby!” she said excitedly while jumping up and down to her sister.
“Why yes she is! Not a big girl like you!” Her mom said as she came down to my level. “It’s nice to meet you Sofia, Camille has told me all about you.”
I blushed, “Nice to meet you too,” I said softly.
“Shhh…” she said, “we’ll talk more when we get to our hotel.”
“Do you have everything Camille?” her dad asked.
“I think so,” she said.
“Ready, Cassidy Bug?” Camille asked her little sister.
“Uh-huh!” She said excitedly, “Uppy Cami!”
“I need to push Sofia,” she started to say, but her mom interrupted.
“I’ve got Sofia, you can hold Cassidy,” her mom told her.
“Okay,” Camille said and looked at my face to make sure I was okay with it. I gave her a slight nod and just kind of zoned out as I was pushed through the train station. I was just wondering how we were getting to the hotel when I realized we were at the entrance to a subway. Without warning, hands appeared out of my view and picked me up and I found myself in the hands of my ‘grammy.’
“You are so light!” she told me quietly before bouncing me up and down. “Honey, can you get the stroller folded up?”
“Yes sweetheart,” her husband said.
I looked at her more closely from my view from her hip. Camille’s mom didn’t really look that much like her. While Camille was fairly petite, her mother while not severely obese, was larger than her. Her face was kindly with her hair styled very nicely down below her shoulders. It was obvious that she was dressed in expensive fashions just based on the way the clothes flattered her larger frame. When Camille mutated, I knew she had changed a lot to look more like the elves, but I could tell she had her mother’s chin and nose still at least.
I watched as she placed a pass for the subway through the card reader before carrying me through. I had read the sign that said children under forty-four inches were free, so I had no doubt that applied to me. I felt fingers tickle my side, and she asked, “Ready for a ride?”
I gulped as a subway car screeched to a halt in front of us. I knew a baby would behave in one of two ways, cry and hide, or smile and be excited. A part of me, a large part of me, was nervous about it for some reason, but I chose option B. “Yay Grammy!” I said with a smile.
She shifted my position as she found a seat sitting across from Camille and Cassidy. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched Camille tickle and play with her sister that she hadn’t seen since the beginning of the school year. It reminded me of how I used to be with Lily, and made me really homesick all of the sudden.
Camille noticed my look and worriedly mouthed, ‘Are you okay?’
I nodded. Before I could even think of somehow pretending to be a baby and tell her how depressed I was though her mom began playing patty cake with my hands, followed by peek-a-boo, and several other embarrassing baby games before we reached our subway station for the hotel. I pretended to have a blast while she did so, giggling and smiling. ‘Good girl,’ Caireen told me.
As we got off the subway, I caught signs that we were at 59th Street - wherever that was. Just before we boarded another train, I felt the intruding hand from Camille’s mom checking my diaper. I was pretty sure it was wet by now, “Aww… you’re wet aren’t you Sofia?” she squeezed me. “We’ll get you out of that wet diaper when we get to the hotel!”
Like my own mom she couldn’t seem to keep her comments about my toileting quiet. Camille looked sympathetic and apologized with her eyes. Cassidy said, “It’s okay, you’re just a baby Sofia,” she told me. “One day you wear big girl panties wike me!” And with all of the discretion that a toddler has, she pulled her dress up to show me her dry pull-up.
“Cassidy,” Camille scolded lightly and pushed her dress back down, “Big girls don’t show everyone their panties.”
Camille just hugged her so she knew she wasn’t mad and we boarded the next train. I watched the people as the subway car sped towards wherever our next stop was. A teenage girl about our age smiled at me and waved. I shyly smiled at her and waved back with as awkward of a motion as I could.
“She’s adorable!” the girl said to Camille’s mom.
“Thanks,” she told her with a smile.
“How old is she?”
“Eighteen months,” she said with a smile. “Learning all sorts of things now and running around with nothing that slows her down.” She squeezed me for a moment.
A ding announced that we were at 5th Avenue and 59th Street and everyone stood up with Camille’s mom placing me on her hip. ‘Cassidy really missed Camille,’ I said to Caireen.
‘Yes, I think she did. You may be spending a lot of time in ‘Grammy’s’ arms on this little vacation,’ she told me. I sensed a smile behind her voice.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I do believe you’re finally getting in the spirit of things here Sofia,’ she said. She didn’t elaborate any more as we moved through the crowds towards an escalator.
I just played my role as the good baby and looked around. An older lady just in front of us smiled at me and waved nicely. A guy behind Camille glared at me the whole time and I had to wonder if I had gone in my diaper without realizing it. As I looked at him more there was something that seemed vaguely familiar about him, but I felt certain I didn’t know him. Camille’s mom bounced me in her arms as we neared the top and she said, “Want to ride in your stroller now?”
I just nodded, I didn’t really care one way or another. Walking around on my own in New York City was probably not a good idea I decided as the crowds seemed to thin a little. I looked around some more and realized we were in front of a huge hotel that I recognized, even before I saw the name - it was the plaza. I remembered watching a movie about Eloise at the Plaza as a kid, and I couldn’t deny I was really excited to stay there! Camille must have felt the same way, “We’re staying at the Plaza?” She asked excitedly.
“I figured if we were going to meet you in New York City for Thanksgiving it would be a good place to stay,” her dad said with a smile.
“I can’t believe it!” Camille said, obviously excited.
‘What’s the significance of this hotel?’ Caireen asked.
‘You’re asking me a question?’ I asked, kind of startled. ‘You have access to my memories?’
‘It’s kind of jumbled there…’
I smiled again myself, ‘Probably because I had to pretend not to like that movie and the books... Eloise was a fictional little girl who lived at the Plaza full time and caused all sorts of mischief to happen. She and this hotel have almost become synonymous, I guess… I remember as a little girl wanting to come here… They have a room that’s a special suite with her name in it. I’m sure we’re not staying there though.’
‘Hmm… You said when you were a little girl?’
I turned red, ‘I was sure even younger that I should have been a girl… too bad I had to take the route I did to be one.’
Before our conversation could go any further, we walked through the doors and into an amazing hotel. “Why don’t we go up to our rooms and change Sofia and drop your stuff off,” her mom directed.
“Can we come back down to the Eloise shop then?” Camille asked. She looked like she had lost about ten years of age herself right then.
Her mom laughed, “yes, then we’ll go get a bite to eat.”
I sucked on my pacifier as my stroller was pushed down halls they obviously had gotten to know before we arrived. An elevator ride later and we were pushed down to a set of adjoining rooms. Sadly, it wasn’t THE suite! I saw a portable crib in one of the rooms and knew I would be the one sleeping in it. As I looked at it, I couldn’t help but notice it was so plain compared to my others!
“Cassidy why don’t you go potty?” Camille’s mom asked as soon as we got in the door.
“Cammy help me?” She said as she dragged her sister towards the bathroom in the other room.
“Mom, Sofia’s diapers and stuff are all in the bag,” Camille said.
“I figured,” she told her with a smile as I was lifted from the stroller and placed on the couch. Camille’s mom laid out my changing pad and lay me back on it. “So, Sofia, how are you doing? Your mom is worried about you.”
I smiled at her, grateful for a chance to not pretend for a few moments at least while Cassidy was elsewhere. “I guess I’m doing okay. It’s really weird not being with Hannah right now… and missing my family for Thanksgiving is already making me feel a bit lonely.” I realized that was the first time I had even admitted that to myself.
She nodded as she wiped me gently, “I hope you’ll think of us as your extended family this week. Have you ever been to New York?”
I shook my head, “No, I’m kind of excited to see things actually.”
“I hope we’ll be able to see a lot of those things this week! We came here to visit with my sister’s family - they live in the Upper West Side not from here, right along Central Park. We’ll go to their apartment for Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow we’ll go out to Ellis Island and Liberty Island so you can see the Statue of Liberty. Tonight hopefully we’ll be able to go ice skating tonight.”
“Cool!” I told her. “Do they make ice skates small enough for me?”
“If they don’t, I’m sure Camille or you can magic some up?” She smiled as she finished dressing me and Cassidy walked in. She simultaneously pushed my pacifier in my mouth as she picked me up. “Were you a good girl?” She asked her.
“Yes mommy, I peed and pooed!” She pointed towards Camille, “Cammy saw me!”
Camille smiled and looked at me, “Is Sofia all clean and dry now?”
I held my arms out to her and she grabbed me from her mom and hugged me. “Yes,” I told her.
Before I was forced to do any more acting her dad reappeared from somewhere and said, “Everyone ready?”
After an elevator ride downstairs, we went to the Eloise shop. They had left the stroller upstairs and Camille carried me and the diaper bag for a few moments before I wriggled saying, “Down!”
I walked up to a display of cloth dolls and instantly fell in love with them for some reason. “Aww…” Her mom cooed above me as Cassidy also joined me.
“Mommy?” She asked.
“I don’t know…” She said with a smile. I watched her also take and look at the tags for ages and thought for a moment. Her eyes latched on mine for a moment.
“Pwease?!?” Cassidy begged.
She would probably have gone into a full toddler meltdown if she hadn’t said, “Well I guess I’ll have to buy one for all three of my little girls, huh?” I looked up at her and noticed Camille apparently was beaming - apparently happy not to be left out. There were a few other items picked up like some books before we checked out and I was being once again carried by Camille’s mom while holding the doll.
“Thank you,” I told her.
“You’re very welcome,” she said as she hugged me, “what are grandchildren good for if you can’t spoil them!”
Apparently, dinner was to be in one of the hotel restaurants that night. Her dad had reservations and we were quickly seated with just a couple glares from the Maître D. A highchair was brought over for me, but Camille’s mom held me instead of putting me in right away, “Cammy can you give me one of her bottles?”
“Sure mom,” she told her. I watched as she reached in the bag and found one of my milk bottles and discreetly performed a quick spell to heat it. “Here,” she told her.
Her mom seemed surprised that it was warm and glanced at her. She sat it down on the table in front of us for a moment while the waiter took our food orders. I wasn’t asked, and I had a feeling I was going to have to share with her mom. Camille stopped the waiter though and said, “Can we get an extra plate of pasta for my niece,” she said pointing towards me.
“Certainly,” he said and walked away. Camille’s mom shifted me into the crook of her arms as she popped the cover off of the bottle. I watched as she instinctually tested it on her wrist before pulling my pacifier from my mouth and replacing it with the bottle. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was and ravenously nursed. Camille had passed over a bib that she used as a burp cloth when I finished.
I was cuddled for a moment before finding myself strapped into the high chair with the bib now around my neck. I found myself a spectator as Camille’s dad, whose name I discovered was Jack, began pressing her about how things were going. “So how are your classes going?”
“Good,” she answered as she nibbled on a piece of the bread that had been left at the table. Camille’s mom, Ashley I learned, passed me my own piece after giving one to Cassidy. Cassidy was sitting in her booster seat quietly coloring a coloring book her mom had handed her.
“Just good?” her mom asked.
Camille sighed, “I have extra help all the time you know… it’s really not that hard for me.”
‘Hmm… I really should talk to Camille more about being an avatar,’ I thought to myself.
‘She is a very similar young lady,’ Caireen replied.
“How about friends?” her mom asked.
“Well, Esmie and I…” I sat on the sidelines and was actually entertained to hear about Whateley from her eyes. She didn’t tell any secrets, or anything normal people who weren’t at Whateley shouldn’t know, but she had plenty of stories I’d yet to hear.
As the conversation petered off her dad asked, “So any boys?”
I watched her nearly choke on her water right then. Thankfully for her sake she was saved by food being sat down in front of everyone. Camille’s mom directed them to put my plate in front of her and Camille. I really wanted to just bring out my silverware, but I knew if I was really trying to pretend to be eighteen months, I probably wouldn’t be that coordinated. Instead I let Camille and her mom trade turns feeding me the small plate of alfredo.
Annoyingly I was still hungry when I finished the plate, but the idea of a baby my age finishing the plate definitely wasn’t normal - two plates would just paint the mutant picture on me. I found my pacifier hanging from my shirt and began nursing on it hoping it would help my hunger.
“She’s a really good eater!” the waiter said with a smile. He had a very grandfatherly way about himself.
“She didn’t eat much for lunch today,” Camille told him.
“Yes, I remember my daughter used to skip a few meals and then all of a sudden eat. Toddlers never make sense!”
Camille’s mom laughed, “My kids have all been the same way!”
Camille picked me up out of the high chair and felt my diaper. “Mom I need to change Sofia; do we want to just go upstairs to the room or find a bathroom down here?”
“Why don’t we go upstairs and change her and grab their strollers. Then I thought we could take a stroll down 5th Avenue towards Rockefeller Center.”
“Any chance we could go up to the top of Rockefeller?” Camille asked.
Her mom shook her head, “Not tonight, I think we can do that tomorrow - we bought tickets for everyone this morning.”
I sat contentedly on her hip as she carried me back upstairs while her mom carried her sister. Camille wasted no time laying me on the bed on top of my changing mat. Cassidy had quickly been taken potty before she climbed on the bed next to me just as she pulled the second tape from my diaper. “She’s poopy!” she told her.
“Just a little,” Camille said, agreeing.
I hadn’t even noticed, but just turned off the caring about my embarrassment. Babies my age don’t do anything else and I had to get over that. Once she had a new diaper on me, she made her own run to the bathroom to go pee and wash her hands. Cassidy played with her new doll and I wondered where mine was. I looked and saw it peeking out of my diaper bag so I pulled it out and held mine too.
Cassidy was miming changing a non-existent diaper on her doll. I was just about to pretend to copy her when Camille came back out and her parents pushed both of our strollers. “Come on baby, let’s put you in your stroller so we can go for a walk!” Camille cooed.
I let myself be threaded into the harness of the stroller and let my pacifier drop. “Baba!”
“Oh, are you hungry still?” She asked me with a smile. It sounded like Cassidy wasn’t going into her stroller as quietly as I was.
“Pwease,” I told her.
She dug around in the diaper bag and handed me another bottle warmed up and we were off. Along the route we somehow ended up mixed in with a tour group whose guide was explaining that the city was laid out on a grid and very consistent on spacing. I listened to him explain that the saying a ‘New York Minute’ meant how long it took to walk a block.
I quickly grew bored of sitting in the stroller since I could only see so much from down there. I squirmed a bit and Camille checked on me as we were stopped at a street waiting for a crosswalk. “Uppie!” I told her as I pulled my empty bottle out of my mouth.
She sighed, “I’ll get you out when we get there. Only a few more minutes I think…”
I groaned as she put the pacifier back in my mouth and took the empty bottle. I sulked a little as we walked down the street. I could just see this gigantic church that loomed over the street when she finally pulled me out of the stroller and placed me on her hip. “Daddy can you push her stroller?”
Of course, since I wanted out so did Cassidy. The crosswalk allowed us to cross and I watched us near a Lego store! “Can we go?” I whispered to Camille.
“I knew you were going to say that…” she said back to me quietly.
“Mom, I need to get a gift for a friend at school, may we stop by here really quick?”
Her mom looked at her and then me. I blushed a little, but she smiled and said, “sure!”
That led to a walk around the store and the amazing displays that were there. We walked out of there with a set of Duplo blocks for Cassidy, a set for me, and the set of Disney Princess themed ones for Camille’s ‘friend.’ I was all smiles as I was deposited back into my stroller and buckled in. Before I knew it, we were now at Rockefeller Plaza and walking towards the skating rink. Her dad had picked me up out of the stroller while her mom carried Cassidy, Camille managed the strollers and headed to rent some skates with tickets. It turns out this was planned for quite a while as I learned while waiting that only a hundred and fifty people were allowed on the rink at a time.
Camille leaned the stroller back to being almost a bed and then quickly lay me in there before covering the stroller with a blanket. “We need to change your diaper before you go out there,” she told me.
“I’ve never ice skated before,” I told her quietly.
“You’re a baby, why would you have?” She smiled at me.
After a quick and discreet diaper change, she laced the skates onto my feet and I was carried over to the ice rink. It was here that I learned Camille was almost as much of a novice as I was, but her mom was a master! She was soon teaching Camille, Cassidy, and I in turns. I fell on my butt several times and for once was grateful for a diaper as it cushioned my fall. One of the times a nearby teenage girl came over and said, “Oh is she okay?”
“She’ll be fine,” Camille said from a few feet away as she tried to get to me.
I just smiled, “I good!” I stood shakily back up and started skating again. With my short height and mutant powers, it wasn’t like I was going to be hurt! With that realization I became the fearless toddler that I had seen on ski slopes so much of my life.
Camille became frustrated that she couldn’t keep up, calling, “Sofia get back here!”
Her mom laughed at her, “I’ll go get her.”
I had been so focused on getting faster and faster I hadn’t noticed Camille calling my name. It was a bit of a shock then when I was picked up suddenly and hugged, “You’re a natural!”
I smiled when I realized who it was, but for a moment I almost panicked. I returned the hug around her neck and quietly asked, “You grew up skating?”
She nodded as we skated back towards the others, “I was competitive with figure skating until high school.”
“Cool!” I told her. “How come Camille is so bad?”
“She’s always been scared to go ice skating and would scream as a kid if I tried on the rare occasion we were near a rink. I gave up,” she shrugged a little.
We had just made it back to the edge of the rink where Camille held onto the rail when I caught a massive flash of an explosion destroying the Statue of Prometheus above us!