My heart was fluttering. I was homesick. We had just left two days ago, when the festivities were still fresh. Karlena and I had boarded a cart filled with all kinds of people that were headed the same place as us. There were all there for different reasons and from different regions. Take Patcha for example, a little boy we befriended, he was from the Western part of Lestaria and he had came here all by himself—his parents sent him so that he can earn a living. He is only thirteen.
I could never imagine embarking on a trip alone at the age of thirteen. Of course, I would have to bring my sister, or someone I am very comfortable with, like Rafa or Amore.
Karlena was asleep on my shoulder. I squirmed under the weight. She had her travel pack slung over the both of us. Her loud snore resonated throughout the small covered travel cart.
I cocked my head up and turned to see who said that. It was Patcha; he was leaning over the snoring Karlena and stared up at me with bright, bright green eyes. “Yes?” I sounded. I smiled at him; he was a charming little boy. His eyes were so enchanting and they went well with his jet black curls that hung over his eyebrows. Patcha’s skin was sun kissed with freckles and a slight golden tan; he looked like a small changeling—so cute and beautiful.
“Will you and your sister be headed for the western part of Roumijin?”
“Hm...” I pondered for a moment, letting Patcha garner more interest. Then I laughed and said, “Yes, yes we are. Why do you ask?”
Patcha gave a large grin, “Because I am headed that path too! I’ve been there before!” He rested his arms and let them dangle over Karlena’s waist and exclaimed, “I’ll show you the whole distirct! It’ll be so adventurous!” He took in a breath and said, “Western Roumijin is incredible Miss Ana, I assure you’ll have many customers.” Patcha gave a devilish grin.
“Oh my...” I heard an elderly woman mutter. When I glanced at her, I also noticed that some people were giving me looks of disapproval.
My cheeks flushed and I glanced at Patcha, whispering, “I dance traditional dances, what did you think I did?” I looked from left to right, sighing as the people around me understood.
Patcha shrugged and replied, “I thought you resembled the type, Miss Ana... My brother said that there are many in Western Roumijin... He should know.” He gave another comical grin.
I curled my lip and huffed, “He should know indeed...”
Patcha furrowed his brows at me and shook his head. “My brother never associates himself with Faerie Wanderers—he could get his spells from elsewhere... Plus, he scares them away with the way he looks.”
My insides relaxed, Patcha only meant that I resembled a Faerie Wanderer, young women that sell parts of their own magic to make a profit. I felt flattered that he thought I was as beautiful as a Faerie Wanderer, who uses their beauty as a distraction for their faulty magical abilities—their spells are not potent. They usually fancy their victims as stupid, young, attractive men.
“I’m quite sure a Faerie Wanderer’s standards are so high that most boys fall under the category of Unwanted, right?”
“Mm...” Karlena stirred before Patcha could answer.
He glanced at me and laughed before regaining a serious demeanour, “You can...say that.”
“What is it?”
Karlena let out a yawn and turned around, falling over on Patcha. Fortunately, she was smaller than him, so she didn’t over power him. He pushed her aside and said, “It is the truth Miss Anastasija.”
I would find it hard to believe that such a beautiful young boy like himself would have an undesirable brother.
“Ow! Anastasija, you’re hurting my arm...” Karlena muttered. She stirred around some more then opened her eyes, only to find Patcha gripping her arm. She straightened up, “Oh, it’s you... Did I fall asleep on you?”
“You may have...” Patcha cleared his throat, trying to deepen his voice. He garnered a blasé expression and stared into space. I grinned at how mysterious he wanted to look. He kept his eyes on the ground and said, “It was only momentarily anyhow...”
Karlena blinked her eyes and stretched, “Ah, I see.”
Patcha’s face flushed. I suspected that he had a small liking for Karlena. I saw the way that he warmed up to her as soon as we boarded this cart since yesterday.
“Had a nice nap sister?” I asked Karlena with a smirk.
She rolled her dark brown eyes and huffed, not answering me.
I just laughed and then returned to Patcha. Why was he insisting these sorts of things about his brother? Did he not like him? Was he just spiting him? I gave Patcha a hard stare and asked, “Are we going to see your brother when we get to Roumijin?”
He nodded at me, “Oh yes, he’s the one I shall be living with. He lives in the town’s beacon tower—he’s the Gatekeeper’s Apprentice.”
“Who is this?”
We both glanced at Karlena, she had taken out a small loaf of bread from her bag and she was eating it small pieces, ripping each between her skinny fingers. Patcha rushed in and said, “My brother, Tristan, the Gatekeeper’s Apprentice for Western Roumijin.”
Karlena nodded, “Oh...” She gave me a look of curiosity. She had just woken up.
“Have you ever been to Western Roumijin?” Patcha asked me.
I shook my head, “Only once...along time ago, so this will really be the serious trip.”
Patcha nodded and glanced at Karlena in a sheepish air. Then he asked, “Are you going to be performing?” He avoided making eye contact with her when she looked at him. He ran a hand through his glossy black hair and let out a sharp breath as the cart jumped over the road.
“No...I am not a born performer,” Karlena said through a tight smile. She glanced away from his shielded eyes. After a moment she said, “I’m only an Apprentice Healer.” Her cheeks flushed, “I cannot dance to save my life.”
“Oh, what a travesty...” I whispered under my breath. I t was a shame that my sister couldn’t do what we Oramani we born for. I gave her a pert smile as I dodged her striking hand. Patcha was struggling to not get caught under the crossfire.
The travelling cart finally came to a stop. When I stood up to see what was going on, Patcha said, “We’re at the gate.”
“Is that where we will meet your brother?” I asked him.
He shook his head and rose, gathering his two large sacs. “No, Tristan guards the Southern entrance of the city.”
“Oi, that’s not good...” Karlena exclaimed. “By the way the sun is set on the sky, we would have to walk the all day, right?” She didn’t let us speak as she said, “It’ll be evening by the time we’re done collecting our sums.”
We all hoped off the cart. I coughed, there was a cloud of dust wherever people tread. Karlena and I followed after Patcha, pulling out our papers.
“You want a place to perform, Miss Ana?” Patcha said as we moved up a large line. He was smiling uncontrollably at me.
I didn’t say anything. I just nodded, curious about this boy’s content expression.
He toyed with a curl as he said, “I am certain that the Marketplace still garners many rich spectators.”
“Really,” Karlena said, pushing in-between us with a grin. She liked money. I would sometimes walk in on her with our earnings scattered all over the floor, she would sit for the entire afternoon counting and counting the multiple coins and bills we received.
Patcha nodded, somewhat looking stiff, as Karlena was right by his side. I stood back and hid my smile; it was almost cute to watch this unfurling. We moved up farther along the long line, waiting under the tanning sun.
It was getting cold and the night had finally arrived. The city streets were less busy and the vendor stands were faded behind worn sheets, protecting them from the absent rain. Patcha was right; we had made a good profit at the marketplace. Karlena and I had enough money to last us two weeks here.
“Are you certain we could stay with you?” Karlena asked Patcha. She didn’t like being a burden to acquaintances.
Patcha waved his hand, “Yes, yes!”
“Your brother doesn’t mind visitors? Is he as hospitable as you are?” I asked as we trudged down a dirt path. The road had ended a mile ago. There was a forest up ahead now. We were steering out of city limits. I was starting to get nervous about this, so I suggested, “Patcha, we don’t have to burden you and your brother. Karlena and I...we can just stay at an Inn, with proper rooms—we have the board.”
He laughed as he started to guide us through the forest ahead. “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s the least I could do for you two.”
“Hmm...” Karlena hummed. I knew she hated to dark. She also hated being in dark forests.
I latched onto my handmade shawl and shivered in the whistling wind. “Is there proper room?”
“Yah,” Patcha replied. He was searching through the forest like a true Dweller; it was as if he’s always lived here. “Tristan lives in a large beacon tower, there are many warm rooms.” He laughed, knowing the Inn, didn’t have the proper heating. Then, he came to a sudden stop. Karlena bumped into his back. Patcha turned and whispered, ‘We’re here.”
“Patcha? Why are you whisp—” Karlena was interrupted by Patcha’s hand cupping her mouth. She gave him a stunned look.
He blushed as he felt around at the air and closed his eyes. He took hold of Karlena’s hand—smiling—and said, “Take hold of Miss Ana’s hand please.”
Karlena frowned but felt for my hand anyhow. Patcha stepped towards me and stretched his hand at me.
I took hold of it and asked, “Are we not going to find the tower?” I shuddered when the wind’s speed picked pace. I kept my expression even and held my breath. My fingertips were tingling with heat. I wondered, was this how Karlena felt when she did magic?
Patcha smile. With the type of expression on his face, he didn’t look thirteen. He seemed as old as Rafael. “Miss Ana, we are closer than you think.” He shut his eyes then said, “Do the same.”
I exchanged glances with Karlena before I shut my own eyes. Then, I felt it; it was a jolt of shock. Energy? I wasn’t quite sure.
Then, Patcha sighed. I felt him let go of my hand and I opened my eyes. Behind him was a grand wall. I backed up, still holding my sister’s hand. She glanced at me with an awestruck expression.
“Oh Patcha...impressive,” Karlena breathed, walking towards the wall and feeling the cold stone. She wrapped her fingers around the vines and beamed at him.
Patcha hid his red face under the moonlight. He shrugged then said, “Really, it was only an Illusionist spell. That is my brother’s work.” He pointed to the wall, “Come along now.”
Karlena shook her head, “I am no good at climbing.”
“I’ll carry you,” Patcha said with a sheepish grin. He was so sure of himself. He looked over at me and exclaimed, “I’ll be back shortly, alright Miss Ana?”
My heart skipped. I felt something appear next to me. I darted my eyes towards that direction but saw nothing. I glanced at Patcha and nodded at him fast.
He motioned for Karlena to get on his back. He scaled the twelve-foot wall with ease as I watched him jump down with my sister. I heard her yelp with fear as they hit the soil. I heard them argue while their voices faltered in the distance.
I was alone.
So I decided to sit on a stone and wait.
My skin was frozen with raised bumps. The night’s frost only heightened when I thought about something’s presence appearing next to me. It was so absurd, yet here I was, buying into my own irrational fears. I decided to stand. I felt safer that way.
I convinced myself it was nothing until the relief sank in. It felt like a warm breeze, so relaxing that I began walking towards the breeze that my conscious thought up. It didn’t seem cold now where I was. I sighed.
When I stopped walking, I noticed a lake was before me in some few short paces. The wall, on the other hand, was a running distance away. That is good, I can always run back, I am fast and able.
I examined the large lake. It was beautiful under the moon’s radiance. Alluring. I went towards it and became entranced by its mysterious glow. There was also a smell, it was hard to describe, sweet, was all I can think of.
I sat near the edge and stared at myself. I treaded the surface with one hand. At least I wasn’t a mess. I laughed.
There was a soft chorus of laughter. They all mirrored my own. I stopped giggling and looked over my shoulder.
That was when I saw them. Sylphs, many of them, there were about fifteen or so. All of them resembled tall glowing pillars of light.
“Um...hello?” I chimed to them. I shrank back and felt uneasy in their midst. They kept their large doe eyes on every single movement I made. They all had emanating clear pools for eyes.
The Sylphs moved fast, like floating, as they came to me. They all wore the same flower petal dresses. Their dresses were stark white, like their large feathery wings. Their kind smiles disarmed me.
I held up a hand, they all made a tight group around me, their wings blinding me with light. I stood up in a calm way, as to not scare them. I remembered my father talk about Sylphs once. They were like birds, curious, fragile. All of them towered over me at impressive heights, making me feel insignificant and small. They were truly a marvel.
Suddenly, my sense went soft. My vision blurred to a mist as a particular light that emanated from all of them. They all grinned, their blue hair floating as they did so. I smelled a sweet scent as the moved away me, forming a lined path. I had just realized there were more of them farther on.
My eyes rested at the end of the line. The strongest light was coming from that one. I was in a drunken stupor almost from the pure light and smell. It was so overwhelming; I actually sensed all of their energy. I wasn’t a very magical person. Karlena was the one gifted with that. I relied on physical skills, so this...it was so incredible.
I caught my breath when the Sylph appeared in front of me.
He had the same expression the others had—curious, calm, and welcoming. A ring of leaves was perched on his stark silver hair. He had a rather young face, yet looked upon me with such reverence that only the elders were capable of doing. It was absolutely bewildering.
His sage green eyes glowed with a sift touch in the dark. He searched my face, examining it. I stood and looked up at him, frozen with astonishment.
“H-hello...” I muttered. It was such an irrelevant word to utter. In fact, anything to be said presently was irrelevant. I held my hands together and whispered, “You are their king.” I mostly said this to myself. I flushed when he smiled. It wasn’t my fault. My father had recounted that this was the effect the Sylphs had on mere mortals, always charming them, hypnotising them.
He never spoke a word. None of them did. Their expressions were their form of communication. Although, now, the air felt dense. They did that, they controlled the air, changing it as they please. They could cut off my breath in a matter of seconds if they wanted to.
“Did I do anything?” I asked, tensing up in the sudden cold breeze.
The entire Sylphs’ wings fluttered. They fled for the trees and the lake, disappearing.
That was when I heard Patcha shouting, “Miss Ana? Where are you?”
Before I could say anything, I looked at the king again. He was still, looking alert. I should have known what was going to be bestowed upon me at that moment.
He took my hands in gentle hast and his wings flapped once and in silence, like an owl in flight. It was as if it had never happened. I gaped at his stoic expression, the tip of his nose right up to mine. I shut my eyes and waited for the flying to stop. When I opened them, behind his face, I saw the stars and sky. Below me, I felt the lake’s water.
We were sinking down, the Sylph king and I. I never stopped hearing my sister and Patcha calling after me. I tried to speak, but no sounds came out. My voice was stolen. A strange feeling of peace overwhelmed me as we sunk down at an eternally slow pace, as if, I was always near him.
I felt myself bite my lip, no; this was the Sylph’s effect. I had to fight it somehow. If only...
Right. I closed my eyes, feeling drowsy...
I gasped, just my face was immersed. Water didn’t enter my lungs, it was air. It felt different from the air above. It was light and pure; it reminded me of the Sylphs. I moved my eyes to the Sylph King’s face.
Every muscle in my wanted to flee. This was instinct.
“Do not be afraid,” he stated.
I tried speaking again, I was not fortunate with my second try. I watched my long wavy hair dance around my eyes likes black seaweed. I glanced at my hands entwined with his. These weren’t my hands, just numb appendages attached to my arms. I had no mind for them now.
If this was being kidnapped by a Sylph, I was in complete accordance with it, whether or not I wanted to comply.
My mouth pulled. Was it a smile? I saw him smiling at me now. I watched as a light came over the over of us. It was so bright. I felt it, like soft feather of light.
No, those were his wings.