Things only began to move steadily from bad to worse. Clodia remembered that night for years and years afterward. How she had sat at the lake, curled into a ball, watching the still surface of the lake glitter under the evening sun. How she had contemplated her slightly dysfunctional mother and resented her twisted accomplished fame.
When she had arrived back home, it was to find her mother red in the face with anger and upset. She had sent her guests home, and had since been sitting at the front window with the curtains clenched tightly in her fists. No, she wasn't best pleased with Clodia's untimely disappearance because apparently she had been 'worried to the bone' and had thought someone had taken her.
Clodia had thought this a silly idea at the time. Who would have wanted to take her away? But now she understood that being the single oddity of an unchanging world had its misfortunes. Of course, Clodia had known this all along, she had seen the eyes that followed her wherever she chose to go and she heard the whispers that stayed close behind her always, but she was a young child then, and though she knew the many imperfections of the world in which she lived, she didn't quite understand the danger of fame.
As I say, her Mother had not been best pleased about her daughters disappearance, though that was little more than a slight distraction from the fact that Clodia's pale green, silk dress was dirtied and in some places, torn.
It is very hard for a girl of seven to sprint through trees, thorny bushes and knotted brambles very carefully. A particularly vicious branch had attacked the expensive cloth with little mercy, and had even scratched Clodia's skin beneath. Clodia's Mother was just furious when she disentangled a twisted twig from her dark hair and had found that she was missing a particular sparkly clip - Clodia didn't have much memory of having worn any such clip in the first place - that had been given to her by her grandmother.
Clodia had little to say about the subject, so stayed quiet. She apologized when she was told to, and she let her mother change her clothes, pulling the garments over her arms with very little care and a large amount of frustration.
Yes, it had been nothing short of what Clodia had expected, and it was not forgotten in a hurry, yet this is not what seemed peculiar to Clodia. In fact, a large number of strange things started to happen in the years that followed that night.
You may not consider them particularly odd. Indeed, nobody other than Clodia thought them peculiar. She had tried to explain to her Mother that things such as these just do not happen in the world, and insisted that she had not been hearing things, she was not imagining things, and that no, she did not dream them up.
The first had been a most strange occurrence, and it happened just the morning after her temporary disappearance from home.
Clodia had been sitting outside, on her small wooden porch, looking out at the rest of the village. The sun was burning hot and glared fiercely down at the inhabitance of Neumair as they went about their lazy, daily routines.
The paths between the wooden cabins were little more than tracks of colorless dust that lay itself upon the shoulders of strangers and the porches of homes with each slight breeze that filled the summer air.
The sky had been a magnificent blue, and it pained Clodia's eyes each time she lifted them too high because of the suns lurid rays. She was sitting cross legged in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt (because her Mother allowed her to sit on the porch in nothing other than this). At the time, she had been watching a little boy of just four or five building something on his own porch out of small blocks of wood. He had been wearing a curious little concentrated frown as he worked. Clodia watched this boy, not because he fascinated her, nor did he particularly interest her, but because she wanted to avoid the stares of the many pairs of eyes that were burning into her, scolding her worse than the sun. She was used to their curiosity, but it still made her uncomfortable.
So, anyway, there she perched, watching the familiar ways of the village, when she heard a far off rumbling. A sound that she had never heard before.
Clodia had squinted in this direction and that, trying to discern the whereabouts of the peculiar noise, when it began to get louder, as though the object emitting the noise was getting nearer. It seemed to be coming from the East.
Clodia jumped to her feet and ran to the left of the porch and leant over the wooden railing with a hand over her eyes as she looked as far as she could between the identical wooden cabins and the clouds of dry dust until ...
Clodia let out a sudden gasp of surprise. The head of the little boy snapped up to look at her, his concentrated frown falling into an expression of curious bemusement. Clodia felt the number of eyes watching her increase as she stumbled down the porch steps and hurried around cabins and through trees and ran between thorny bushes and knotted brambles until suddenly she found herself beside the very same lake she had sat by the night before. She stopped to catch her breath, holding a stitch at her side for a moment before looking around again. The sound had grown louder than ever, and she circled twice around, looking into the distance for the thing she had seen in the distance just moments ago from her cabin ... that nobody else had seemed to notice ...
And then she saw it, up above her, on a path that wound itself around Beak Hill. Beak Hill was the highest place in all of Danil. It was thought to be the home of the Gods. Clodia's Mother had taken groups of people to its top to sing prayers and to tell them stories of Amadeus, the God of Gods.
On the path, something was moving faster than Clodia had ever seen anything move. Faster than any man could sprint and certainly faster than any bird could fly. It was this that had been making the noise.
It was a curious form that sparkled in the sun. At first, Clodia couldn't decide on whether the thing was a creature or an object, but as it was moving by no means other than its own will, Clodia thought that it must be alive, and it must be some kind of monster.
She gaped up at it with her eyes as round as saucers and her mouth falling agape as the thing sped with a great roaring further and further up the hill. It seemed to be traveling on wheels rather than legs, and its eyes were great, glassy white and staring. Clodia watched it until the very moment it disappeared around the side of the hill, and stood stock still until the sound had faded away and the sun had slid down a little in the sky, forcing the shadows to lengthen at her feet, before turning round, bewildered, and picking her way carefully through the brambles, away from the Black Lake and back towards her home, where her Mother was sure to be little more pleasant than she had been the previous night.