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Cassandra's aunt and uncle ate something called Health Foods, which they brought with them in big cardboard boxes from a special Health Food store in Moscow. They had boxes called Better Buds, or Cereal Zeal and all kinds of crazy seeds and several brands of honey and strange juices that tasted like celery syrup and smelled even worse.

Cassandra would put their supper on the table and then spread out all those seeds and juice for them. You can imagine how exhausting it is for her to vacuum three times a week because the couple kept scattering so many seeds after each meal.

When their old vacuum broke, Aunt Klementina scolded her for her poor handling, which wasn't the case at all, so Cassandra suggested that maybe they should get a bird or a hamster instead of a new vacuum, and she was given a death glare.

This morning, Cassandra hurried through her chores and then returned to her room as soon as she could. The aunt and uncle had gone to the Ice Festival with the twins. Ruslan pretended to be sick and had insisted to stay behind with Cassandra.

When the coast was clear, they brought the chest outside and put it on the table. The golden sunbeam pierced through the window and shone directly on it. The two of them sat opposite each other, staring at the box for a long moment. Ruslan once in a while poking around it as if it was something alive.

"So where exactly did you get this box?" Ruslan said after a while. His small hands reached out to the said object, turning and feeling it around while his eyes still glued to it. Cassandra could imagine his mind working in the speed of light trying to figure out the puzzle.

"In the wood," she said.

"Who gave it to you?" he asked, looking up at her at last.

Cassandra was about to say 'an owl' when she caught herself. She looked at her cousin as if he was a doctor trying to diagnose a disease. Ruslan was brilliant in school, and he was always kind to Cassandra, but he was the sort of boy who is practical with a 'scientist's brain'. Ruslan Osinov, thought Cassandra, would not believe in magic or a talking owl, would he?

But he liked reading science fiction. Science fiction, Cassandra thought hopefully, was a little bit like magic, right?

"Cassandra?"

"Oh, sorry..." she said, and then she decided to take a chance. "Something happened to me yesterday."

"Huh?" said Ruslan, tilting his head at her. Cassandra decided to try another tack.

"What do you think," she started carefully, "is the most wonderfulest, specialest, excitingest thing in the world?"

"A Tesla's Coil," said Ruslan with a bright smile. She always knew that he wanted to be a great inventor. She smiled.

"So do you think his creations were nothing short of...magical?"

"Magical?" he said. "I only thought of that as scientifically genius, but now that you said, yes...they were kind of magical."

"And do you believe in magic?" Cassandra said.

"Well, unless it can be proven by science," Ruslan said.

"What if I told you I've found it?"

"You have found what?"

"Something or rather someone truly magical."

Ruslan raised his thick brows at her.

"Really?"

A great rushing warmth filled Cassandra's heart. She had been just about dead certain that no one would believe what she saw.

"It's a talking owl," she said slowly, leaning forward. "I was getting the groceries home and a great white owl took one of the bags from me. Then she talked to me and gave me this chest. And she wanted me to see her again tonight."

Ruslan's face changed. Then he burst out laughing uncontrollably.

"That was so funny, Cassandra."

For a moment, the girl felt silly in front of the eleven-year-old.

"Well, it wasn't a joke, Ruslan," she said. "The owl seemed like she was in terrible trouble of some kind. She needed us to open this box before sunset. Can you help me with that?"

Seeing the serious look on her face, Ruslan stopped laughing and stared at the wooden chest again. It did look like it had something magical inside. Something like a Tesla's Coil would make him feel.

"You meant...there was a talking owl?" he said slowly. "An owl who talks?"

Cassandra gave him a solemn nod back. She wasn't one who lies or thinks up fantasies, and Ruslan knew it. His mouth slacked as his eyes widened in wonderment.

"Don't tell your parents, okay?" she said. "Or they will put me in a nuthouse, you don't want them to lock me away in a nuthouse, do you?"

Ruslan shook his head and crossed his heart as if to show his loyalty. Indeed, there was a 99.999% chance that Aunt Klementina would definitely think Cassandra had been taking some hallucinogenic drugs if she heard a word about a talking owl.

For the whole morning, the two of them studied the ancient chest, trying to figure out the secret of the otherworldly puzzle together.

Cassandra herself wasn't talented, or a great learner of things, but she never gave up hope. Her mother used to sit her down on her lap and say to her that Cassandra's heart was solid. Her five-year-old self wasn't exactly sure what her mother meant by this, but she liked the sound of it.

And little did she know that soon she would need her solid heart.

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