Pai Ro continued to walk down the dirt road, even as the trees grew thicker. She had never been away from home, so this whole new world was very fascinating. The forest grew darker as she trekked deeper into the forest. When she finally decided to stop, she realized she was a long way from home.
A rush of a million emotions filled her. She just kept staring back at the huge oak trees. She wanted to cry. It had been a while since she heard her mother screaming her name, calling her to her meal. She sat on the dirt road and hugged her knees. She decided that her mother would find her if she stayed exactly in that spot. After waiting for almost an hour, she felt hungry. She walked a few kilometres and found a cherry tree. The little Norkrel didn’t stop to think what a fruitful tree was doing in the middle of the dry, dead forest, instead she climbed it and plucked five cherries. She was about to eat one when she heard a sniffle. She stopped to listen. The sniffle came again and somehow progressed into small sobs. She climbed down and followed the sound.
She found another child like herself, a girl with platinum hair, leaning against an oak tree. She was crying and she was alone. Being the not timid, friendly and compassionate 7 year old that she was, she asked quite naively, ‘Why are you crying?’.
The wet faced girl looked up and was surprised to see Pai Ro standing a few meters away, holding cherries, staring at her. She was also surprised that another girl who spoke a language she understood would be in the forest too. She replied in the same language, ‘I’m lost. I cannot find my family. Can you help me?’
Pai Ro replied, ‘I can’t help you because I am lost too’.
The girl started to cry some more. Pai Ro walked up to her and said ‘Please don’t cry. You must be hungry. Here, have a cherry’, handing her the little red fruit.
The girl smiled. ‘Thank you’, she said. They both sat on the ground. Pai Ro stared at the whiteness of the girl’s hair. She was probably not from her region, she thought, as her own region had only redheads.
‘Where are you from?’, Pai Ro asked.
‘Northern Akmen, water region’, she answered. ‘What about you?’
‘Western Akmen, fire region’, Pai Ro replied. ‘I never thought I’d see another Norkrel here’.
‘Me neither’, the girl said. ‘My name is Hai Dro’
‘My name is Pai Ro’, she said in reply.
Norkrels were the creatures who inhabited a large nation called Akmen. They were a lot like humans, having arms, legs, eyes, hair colour, emotions and conscience. The only differences between Norkrels and Humans were their eyes and hair type. It could not be easily described, but it could be detected easily. The difference was subtle but clear. They also had powers and distinctive birthmarks, something Humans did not have.
The girls continued to talk for a while. Rain decided to spoil their little meeting by letting itself down over the forest. The little girls got up and tried to look for shelter. They ran deeper into the forest, letting out childish giggles every time a rain drop fell on their skin. They had no idea where to run but they ran anyway, enjoying the rain.
When they were able to see clearly, as they were drenched in water, they found a cave and entered. It was dark inside. Pai Ro’s golden eyes lit up and her palms burst into flames. Hai Dro stared as Pai Ro transferred the flames from her palms to a wooden log she had found.
‘Wow’, Hai Dro said. ‘You have your powers already?’
Pai Ro smiled. ‘Yes. My mother says it’s normal for Norkrels of my region to get their powers very young’.
‘Well, I don’t have mine yet’, Hai Dro said. ‘If I did, I would have kept the rain out of our way’.
″Now’ is relative’, Pai Ro said. ‘My mother says that all the time’.
They heard a mumble from across the cave at exactly that moment. They turned to look and noticed that there was a body under a wide blue cloak. Out of the cloak peeked a small grey head. It had a face. It stared at the girls as an awkward silence filled the room. The girl under the cloak got up and was about to say something when two other little Norkrels burst into the stony cave, laughing. The five children stared at each other.
These awkward silences are becoming very constant, Hai Dro thought.
‘We’re sorry to bother you’, one of the girls who had just run in said. ‘My name is Tai Ga and this is Sil Va. We got lost and found the cave when the rain started’.
‘No reason to be sorry’, Pai Ro said. ‘This cave isn’t ours’.
‘I saw you making that fire with your bare hands’, the girl who was under the cloak said to Pai Ro. ‘Do you really have your powers at your age?’
‘I’m afraid so’, Pai Ro answered.
‘Is that so strange?’, Sil Va asked. ‘I also have mine’.
She demonstrated her powers by shifting the rocks on the ground of the cave without touching them. This impressed Hai Dro a lot. Tai Ga let out a small giggle.
‘I also have mine’, she said excitedly. She then transformed into a small robin and sat on Sil Va’s shoulder.
‘That’s amazing’, the girl under the cloak said to Tai Ga. ‘I’ve heard of shape shifters. You’re from Eastern Akmen, the animal region, aren’t you?’
‘Yes’, Tai Ga said after transforming back to her normal self. ‘What about you? Where are you from?’, she asked the cloaked girl.
‘I am from central Akmen, the psychic region. My name is Wyn Do’
The girls sat in a circle round the fire.
After Pai Ro gave the other girls the cherries she had left and they thanked her, Hai Dro chuckled and said, ‘Isn’t it funny that a girl from each part of Akmen happened to get lost in this forest and find this cave on this particular day?’
‘It does seem suspicious’, Wyn Do said. ‘I’ve read books on Akmen history and some past heroes that met like this’.
‘You mean like The Eternal Dragons?’, Pai Ro asked.
‘Yes’, Wyn Do replied. ‘History has it that three Norkrels met on a mountain and formed a life long friendship, fighting hundreds of wars, protecting the land from invaders’.
‘Then the legend turned into a myth that the three of them were cursed by a sorceress and transformed into trolls’, Sil Va said.
‘We’ve all heard that story’, Wyn Do said. ‘But in the one I heard, they were turned into dragons’.
Hai Dro had been staring at Wyn Do’s grey hair for a while. Then she asked ‘What exactly do Norkrels like you do? I mean, if you got your powers right now, what would be your abilities?’
‘Well’, Wyn Do answered, ‘I would be able to read all your minds, manipulate your bodies against your will, move simple objects with my mind, have healing powers and so on and so on. It depends on what part of central Akmen you are’.
‘That’s a lot for just one Region’, Tai Ga said.
‘What is that?’, Pai Ro asked, drawing their attention to a small shiny red stone glimmering under the dirt.
Sil Va picked it and examined it. ‘It’s a ruby’, she said. ‘It must be very old, just lying here waiting for us to find it’. She handed it to Pai Ro.
‘It’s very pretty’, Pai Ro commented, collecting the stone. ‘You don’t think someone lost it, do you?’
‘By the looks of it, I’m pretty sure the person who may have lost it is dead by now’, Hai Dro said.
‘I like how it shines’, Pai Ro said, dusting the stone, ‘like it knows we’re here. Let’s name it and leave it here as a memory of our very unlikely encounter today’.
‘Hey! We can call it “Aeo”’, Wyn Do said.
’“Aeo”?‴, Tai Ga asked. ‘You mean “Encounter”?’
‘Sure’, Wyn Do said. ‘That ruby would be the memorandum of our meeting today. Our first encounter’.
‘I like it’, Pai Ro said.
‘Me too’, agreed Hai Dro.
‘So do I’, said Sil Va.
‘Whatever’, Tai Ga said, being the only one who saw no sense in naming a dirty stone that was found in a cave in the middle of the Arken forest.
Pai Ro put the ruby on a rock pedestal that Sil Va shot out of the ground. Then they all held hands round the pedestal and promised to always be together. Pai Ro thought she saw the ruby glow at that moment. But since no one else noticed, she ignored it.
And that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted all through their lives.