Anabel rose from her bed, hearing that strange music echo beyond the soft clap of the ocean against the land. Forcing her feet into her slippers, she grabbed her shawl and quietly made her way towards the kitchen. She hoped everyone else was asleep, something deep in her gut telling her they would most likely forbid her from satisfying her curiosity. She didn’t bother to take a candle due to the bright moonlight, careful not to step on loose floorboards as she wove her way around the kitchen table and chairs. She looked over towards the smoldering oven to see Elsanor sleeping quietly, her large body curled up near its glowing coals.
She silently jiggled the lock of the back door open, stepping out into a cool evening breeze that played with her wavy curls. She closed the door just as quietly, her feet crunching into the long grass as she continued to hear that alien melody carrying on the wind. She walked towards the staircase that led down to the shore, the music growing louder as she began to make out the notes. It was a sad, lonely tune, its soft notes wavering in the breeze and pausing at times to let the shore drown out the silence.
She came upon the landing, carefully taking off her slippers and letting her feet sink into the sand as she noticed new footprints. She followed them, trying not to disturb whoever or whatever was producing this taciturn song. She began to see orange light around the curve of the shore, moving faster through the sand while trying not to trip over herself.
As she came close to the edge, she peeked around the rocky surface and her brows rose instantly. A small wooden fire had been set up, a stone circle containing the twigs and embers as it burned a humble amber hue. Sitting on a rock nearby, however, was a sight she thought she’d never see in her lifetime.
A Mystic was sitting cross-legged on the rock, wearing garments Anabel had only heard of from soldiers’ tales when they returned from the war.
He wore a deep cardinal red chiton tunic, the cloth fastened with simple brass fibulae at his shoulders while the sleeves came together once again at his wrists. His beige tobi pants hugged at his calves just below the knee, the leg sleeves tied with leather thongs. His hair was let down, his dark auburn curls catching the gleam of moonlight as a strange feather hairpin kept his looser bangs tucked behind his head.
He was playing a wooden instrument Anabel could only assume was a type of flute, although unlike any she had ever seen or heard before. It roughly stretched to twenty inches, six holes drilled into the front and seventh in the back. It had a strange s-shaped notch just above the wind hole and a string of beads dangling beneath it. A long woven leather strap was loosely hanging around his neck, both ends tied to the flute as he continued to play despite having an arm bound to his side.
Anabel tried to get closer, but the Mystic stopped and snapped his head, staring directly at her. She gasped, seeing the brilliant gold and amber colors in his eyes as she felt her legs turn to stone. She couldn’t move even if she wanted to, drawn by his eyes. She could see he was equally afraid, seeing his adam’s apple rise up before bouncing back in place.
“Are you going to report me?” He asked, his voice reminding Anabel of silk billowing in the wind.
It further confused her that he could speak Elbanish effortlessly, and the dots connected.
“Your name isn’t really Rufus Clairemont, is it?”
“I’m afraid your brother is a poor liar, Anabel.” He replied, his accent giving her name a tonal flourish.
She came out from behind her hiding place, coming to stop within a few inches from the rock and taking a seat in the sand. He watched her with utter surprise, blinking a few times.
“Well, this is certainly new and strange to me.”
“I think you speak for the both of us.” Anabel smiled, “My brother never talked about the Mystics, much as I would beg him.”
She could see the frown trying to sneak its way into the Mystic’s face, his eyes catching the sparks of the fire beside him.
“I’m not surprised. However, you are unlike many Elbans I have seen.”
“You’re not shunning me.”
“Why would I?"
Kelstrin tilted his head, a brow raised in bewilderment.
“You are an Elban, your clan chose to go to war with mine. Do you not hate us?”
“I’d hardly call Elban a clan.” Anabel remarked, smirking as she stretched her legs out in front of her and wiggled her toes, “But not everyone supported the war.”
Kelstrin blinked again, his glimmering eyes wide and confused.
“So you aren’t afraid of me?”
“No, but...” Anabel hesitated, looking away, “Is it true what they say? That the Mystics can defy their shapes at will?”
Kelstrin removed his feather hairpin, taking the needle and pricking his pointer finger. Anabel winced, watching the bead of crimson trickle down his dark cinnamon skin before a ring of green symbols spiraled around his rock. With a sudden gust of wind and a flash of green light, his false identity was sitting before her, short blonde hair and round spectacles.
“Yes, it is true we can assume whatever shape we please, so long as we give to Que’Vallah first.” He squeezed another drop of blood from his fingertip, and in a flurry of green sparks, he had returned to his dark skinned self.
Anabel’s jaw dropped, her soft brown eyes reflecting the fire.
“That’s…amazing!” She breathed, a smile curling on the edges of her mouth.
Kelstrin allowed himself the same, smiling gently in response.
“What is that instrument you were playing?” She pointed to the flute hanging around his neck, seeing up close that it was covered in ornate designs.
“This? It is a Mah’tai flute, one that my father made for me on the eve of my thirteenth summer. It was a gift to commend my free spirit, to be like the wind and go wherever it takes me.”
“Thirteenth summer?” Anabel tilted her head.
“Yes, the time I was born. When was yours?”
Anabel turned it over in her mind.
“I guess I was born eighteen springs ago, I think. I hope I got that right.”
“It shows. Que’Vallah has blessed you with its daughter of Nature, in all of her glory.”
“Who is Kayvalla?”
“Que’Vallah.” Kelstrin corrected, chuckling, “It is the all encompassing being of existence- from which everything leaves and comes back to.”
Anabel’s brow quirked, scratching the back of her head.
“That’s a strange concept. It sounds kinda like our Lord.”
“I have heard that name mentioned quite a few times.” Kelstrin muttered, his voice edged with a bitter tone.
“Really? I mean, he’s kind of like your god-”
“Que’Vallah has no form or presence. It just simply is.” Kelstrin once again corrected, quickly silencing to let Anabel talk.
“Sorry. I mean, our Lord is all-seeing and pervasive through life, He judges our souls based on the deeds we’ve committed in this life, and if we’ve done well, we ascend into Celestria.”
“It sounds a lot like Silestra.” Kelstrin remarked.
“A purposeful decision on the founders of the city, I’m sure.” Anabel replied flatly, grinning, “Lord knows they must’ve been full of themselves.”
“What is Celestria anyway?”
“Well, they say it’s the place where all good souls go to spend the rest of eternity in happiness and comfort.”
“You would leave this world behind for a place you hope exists?”
“Do you know if Que’Vallah exists?”
“It resides in a place where life can flourish when none should.”
Anabel furrowed her brows, trying to figure out exactly how something like that could be possible, but rather than get into an argument about differing religions, she focused again on the flute that hung around his neck. In truth, she found his beliefs fascinating, even if she didn’t agree with them.
“The artwork is gorgeous. Did your father do that as well?”
“No, my mother and sister were the ones who decorated my father’s work.”
“How do you play it?”
He drew the flute off his neck, handing it to her in his cupped hands. She shrank back a little, feeling her cheeks flush in embarrassment, but at Kelstrin’s coaxing, she took it from his hands. She turned it over, tracing the chiseled designs before she put the instrument to her lips. She began to blow, but seeing the Mystic’s reaction caused her to laugh and make the note squeak. She handed the flute back to him.
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”
“Ahh, suerbata najha.” Kelstrin replied, shrugging his shoulders as he looped the instrument back around his neck.
“What does that mean?”
“In Elbanish, I suppose it’s close to meaning “a pity”.”
Anabel could not take her eyes off Kelstrin, how the firelight danced across his exposed skin and brought to his eyes a mischievous glow. Kelstrin in turn drew closer to her, reaching out and cupping her soft cheek as he gazed back into her own eyes.
“Domoi hegi’naba…” He whispered, leaning in closer.
A crack of thunder snapped both of them out of their momentary haze, Kelstrin’s eyes narrowing as he could see dark clouds obscuring the moons.
“We must withdraw into your abode.” He said, his voice lost of warmth as he stood up and kicked sand into the fire.
“What’s wrong?” Anabel asked, her cheeks still flushed.