A smooth, icy wind danced around the trees as the sun began to set. The golden light bathed the forest, bouncing off the powdery, white snow. No birds sang— it was too cold for them down south— and the nearby stream had been frozen for months. A satisfying yet soft crunch could be heard as I walked back home with firewood tucked underneath my arms. The tip of my nose was runny and cold; my breath left me in clouds of white vapor. Even though my toes were numb from the cold, I loved being out in the wood. I felt free, even if it was just to collect some firewood.
The trees thinned as I approached the path that leads home. The winding rocky road had been cleared various times after the first snowfall, but still had slick ice in some places. After a heavy snowfall like this, it takes longer to get home since I have to pay attention to the path. After a couple minutes, I finally arrive home. Our house glowed with the orange-yellow hue of a fire. My father must be using the fireplace. I looked up and, indeed, saw smoke rising out of our stone chimney. I dropped the firewood off on the side of the house where we stack our wooden logs. We’ve been running low and it’s been hard for me to gather enough since we always have a fire going. At night the temperature drops to below freezing, so me and my father have been struggling to stay warm when we sleep.
Our house was simple: stone and wood. It was one level with two bedrooms; a living space combined with a dining area; a small, cramped kitchen; a bathroom; and a closet by the door. My father and I have always lived here. We have some goats in a large, fenced area outside and we milk them so that we can sell milk and cheese in town. We live a small way from the fishermen’s village, where we conduct our business. For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to master goat milk soap, but I haven’t gotten the proportions right yet. It’s winter, meaning it’s a hassle to mess with, and I would need certain herbs from the forest, so I haven’t even attempted making soap since autumn.
As I entered the house, I kicked off my boots, covered in dirty snow, and lay them by the door. My new socks already had holes in them— of course. My feet were completely numb from being outside, so I hopped over to the fire. My father was snoring loudly from the sofa; a book laying over his face. The ends of my mouth curled up at the sight of him as I reached for a blanket and draped it across him. I love my father. So much. He has raised me all on his own and sacrificed so much for me. When I was born, my mother passed away, leaving my father to raise me alone. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel terrible when I realize I never knew her. I wish I had met her. I always felt guilty for some reason since she died because of me, even though no one was to blame. My father was scarred by her death. Even though he tries to hide it, he mourns her everyday. I can usually see the sadness swirl behind his eyes, but whenever I ask him about it, he brushes it off— he doesn’t like remembering. Every now and then he will say things like, “Oh, how your mother used to love blueberries” or “You are just like her with that smile of yours.” I just smile and nod my head whenever he says things like that. I don’t know how else to respond.
I walked into the kitchen and began to boil some water for some mint tea. The mint helps us through winter since it curbs appetite. We can’t always have the best food since the village is hard to get to as it sits on top of a cliff. My father and I don’t hunt either— there’d be nothing to eat in the dead of winter anyways. I fish in the warmer seasons, but it will take months before the waters thaw. In autumn, we dry meat and fish to last us through the cold months, but today we have no meat or fish. I did remember I had saved some chicken bones and decided to make a soup.
When the soup was ready, I woke up my father and we ate in comfortable silence. I looked at his features, the ones I inherited. He gave me his tanned skin, dark colored hair, and big, brown eyes. My father told me once I had my mother’s smile and wavy, curly hair. Since I never knew what she looked like, I always begged my father to describe her to me me when I was little. One day I asked, “Was she beautiful?” My father had said she was tied for the most beautiful woman in the lands. Upon hearing this, twelve year-old me got upset, and refused to speak to him for a couple days, thinking he was seeing another woman. When he saw me pouting one afternoon, he told me not to worry. He explained to me that he meant I was tied for beauty with my mother. His eyes twinkled and I think he was remembering my mother’s face, seeing her in me.
Today my father kept to himself. He looked through the window, watching the snowfall. It was all white outside and a breeze kept pushing a tree branch into the windowpane. The small, scratching noise was rhythmic and only made the house seem more still. I tried to read his thoughts. I knew my father’s dream was to become a traveling merchant. Merchants are virtually the only humans that can leave the peninsula. My father wanted to see it all. He had a map next to his desk with a big X in the northern part of the continent. When I asked what it meant, he said it was his dream to go there. He said that Mother was born there and that it was supposed to be a paradise, full of beautiful fountains, structures, art, and people. I always asked why she was born up north, since humans were isolated to the peninsula. He didn’t know why.
His whole life was turned upside down when he met my mother. They were young and in love— I came as a surprise. When my mother died, my father was forced to quit his studies in the city. He took over his parents’ goatery in the northwest of the peninsula, close to the Enchanted Wood, and raised me with his parents. My grandparents passed when I was young, so I don’t really remember living here with anybody else. In my mind, it’s just been him and me. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My father cleared his throat.
“Aurora, I got a letter from my old university about a position available for a merchant.” My father’s gruff voice snapped me out of my thoughts. “If I get the position, we could move to the city. My old professor— from a course I didn’t finish— remembers me and thinks I should apply for the position.”
My father’s eyes weren’t bright like I imagined them to be and his voice too quiet. He didn’t look excited. This was his dream. He looked inexplicably sad. I was confused. My vision drifted to his empty bowl, hoping to break eye contact.
“Aren’t you happy?” I asked.
“Yes. Yes, I am. Of course I am. It’s just difficult after all these years. And—”. He shook his head.
“It’s nothing to worry about— I’m just overthinking.” He stood up, stretched, and walked over to the kitchen sink with his bowl in his hand. He began to wash some of the dishes.
“Aurora,” he stopped scrubbing his bowl, his voice light, “we should celebrate this opportunity. Your mother would have been ecstatic.” He resumed his washing, humming some old songs he used to sing to me when I was young.
I still sat at the table, a little shocked. I finished my soup and washed my bowl in the kitchen. My father had gone to his room. I felt warm, but lonely. If my father wasn’t with me, the house seemed to expand making me feel small, alone, and worthless. I hated being inside too long. Shuffling over to the closet by the door, I grabbed my boots and ripped my coat off the hanger.
“I’ll be right back!” I shouted.
As I laced up by old, brown boots I could hear small sniffles coming from my father’s room. I thought I imagined it, but right before I closed the door, I heard sobbing. He could be thinking about my mother. I shook my head trying to clear it out. Once I was outside, I looked up; the light was fading in the east. Snow was drifting down gently, kissing the ground. I breathed in the icy air that stung my lungs. It felt amazing. I couldn’t help but smile as I made my way into the wood.
The trees reached for the skies, swaying gently with the wind. There was a mix of trees in this wood, from oak to pine to birch and elm. The evergreens brought brightness to the drab, winter colors. In the snow, small rabbit footprints made a path to a little burrow next to a rock.
I knew my way around this section of the wood. The forest separated human land from the rest of the continent. Even though magic couldn’t be real, this forest felt magical. The surreal colors that bathed the forest under the setting sun made me think something special had taken place here long ago. This forest was given the name the Enchanted Wood. Nobody knew why, but I think it was because the forest acted magical. To me, it was. It was my favorite place to be. I liked to think that the wood knew me personally and welcomed me back everytime I set foot on the soft, sweet smelling grass.
I could only travel so far. There was a small river that flowed deep in the wood— the Lavender— that could not be crossed. It was the boundary of our territory. Any humans that crossed never returned. Old legends describe magic wielding, horrible, man-eating creatures on the other side. But that was just a myth.
Nobody truly knew what lie beyond the Lavender. Since we lived so far up in the mountains, my father thought that bringing a governess to teach me would be better. Otherwise, I would have had to stay the whole week at the school, only coming home for the weekends. My father hired an old lady, her name was Ms. Thorn. In our history lessons, I learned of the war tribes of ancient peoples. They were horrid, bloodthirsty savages, unaccustomed to civility or any form of humanity. Humans isolated themselves two-hundred years ago when the war tribes sought after human involvement. The great kings at the time decided to withdraw from the continent completely. However, after a couple decades of famine, plagues broke out, throwing entire kingdoms into poverty. The economy had been crippled by the complete isolation. The popular King Jareth instilled the Mercator Progressio-- The Merchant Program. Carefully selected skilled merchants could leave the peninsula seeking peaceful trade, while representing the human kingdom.
When my father explained it to me, he said that at first the program failed terribly. They sent out ten and only one of the ten merchants returned. Without the king’s knowledge, a councilman decided to hire foreign mercenaries. Nobody knew the councilman, and nobody knew where he hired the protection from, but when they left, all of the ten merchants returned. After a couple decades, the economy recovered. Traveling merchants became an engine in the kingdom’s society. Before merchants left the peninsula, they were sworn to secrecy and to only report back to leaders on what they had seen. Over the course of my life, fewer and fewer merchants have been sent out. My father always wondered why, but I knew he didn’t agree with it. Especially since he dreamed of becoming one and knew how important their roles were.
After walking uphill for some time, I finally reached my favorite spot in the wood. I stood for a minute to catch my breath and observed the small clearing, the snow taking on a blue hue from the darkness. The trees around the clearing had beautiful frozen beads of ice on the tips of their branches that twinkled. There was the Lavender straight ahead, frozen, and a small, silvery-white stream branched away from it. The tendril of frozen water reached to where I was standing and joined an ovalish pool. The pool wasn’t large, but it was deep. In the summertime when it was hot, I loved to trek up here and bathe. To the left of the pool was a fallen tree trunk. I brushed off the powdery snow and sat upon it. This was my favorite place. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes. I felt at peace. The wood was quiet at night and it seemed to be listening to its own music.
I thought about what my father had told me during supper. Moving to the city sounds impossible. We’ve been here my whole life. What would we do with the goatery? Some goats were too old for milking and probably wouldn’t sell. I sighed. If father gets the job, he’d have to leave me… for months at a time. I don’t think we’ve been apart for a single night. I wondered if I could convince him to take me. I knew it was dangerous, but I’d rather us be together. I could explore the world if I joined him.
Darkness weighed down on me and I looked up seeing clouds covering the moon. I saw more clouds far out, meaning the moonlight wouldn’t do me any good tonight. Feeling an inner tranquility, I walked back home.
Every day, my father and I wake up with the sun, going out early to milk the goats. My father had built a small, wooden shack for the goats in the wintertime. We opened the doors to the shack and saw our fourteen goats huddled against one another sleeping. A couple awoke and looked up, with their horizontally slit eyes. I had named every single goat. I named them after what I thought they looked like. My favorite goat was all black: her name was Midnight. Midnight was pregnant, along with two other of our does.
Springtime was the best because we could care for the baby goats. When they are babies my father lets me take some inside the house, which always brings a smile to our faces. Seeing their wobbly steps on the wood flooring and how they topple over makes our faces scrunch with laughter. This morning, Midnight looked extra swollen. Maybe we’d have an early birth.
My father and I milked the goats and set up a tiny campfire for them in the field so that they wouldn’t get too cold. He reminded me how Grandmother would knit little sweaters for all the goats for the cold— sometimes little hats too. I clutched at my scarf, the one Grandmother had made for me. It was made out of wool and was an apricot color. My father wore his scarf, too. We worked until noon and then went inside for lunch. By the time we finished eating a watery soup, he spoke up. We hadn’t really talked all morning.
“This morning, I put my letter in the mailbox. I think the mailboy should have it by now,” he said. “We’ll know what to do soon.” He gave me a warm, toothless smile.
“If you do get to become a merchant,” I said, wording everything carefully, “You would get to travel, correct?” He nodded. “And you’d be gone for months at a time. And I’d be here… or I suppose I’d be in the city. And I’d be alone, though. I wouldn’t know anyone in the city. I was wondering… it’s just you’d be gone and—”
“Yes,” he cut me off. “I would want you with me. I don’t know how I’d make it happen. If they said no, I’d smuggle you in somehow.” He chuckled a bit, staring off into the distance. I stood up and took his bowl into the kitchen, along with mine.
“I think I should go to Hydis and get some food. We have nothing left really.” I said as I opened the pantry, searching for anything edible.
“That sounds like a great idea. Actually, I’ll go with you. The goats will be fine for a couple hours.”
I smiled. It’s been awhile since we’ve gone together. We both started to get ready, putting on our nicer clothes. I bottled up some goat milk to sell, placing it in a basket. We usually brought a goat with us on the journey to carry the milk. Midnight always came with us, but since she got pregnant we’ve been happy with Storm, a gray male with a scruffy chin. My father took the basket and I got Storm out of the fenced area. He was huddled by the fire next to Midnight when I put a little harness and leash on him, so he wouldn’t wander off. Together we met my father by the gate to our home, and he hooked the basket onto the harness. He had a pack that he hooked onto the other side of Storm. Once he finished, we began our journey. The closest village was eight miles away, if we walked quickly we could get there in two hours. The path was rocky and steep since we lived on a mountain. Storm was built for this terrain, but my father and I needed walking sticks to help us stay balanced.
“Aurora, did you know that your Mother comes from a land with taller mountains than these? She used to describe them to me.” He was panting a bit. “She said they were so tall, the tops were hidden by clouds. And there was snow on them year round since it was so high up and so cold.”
“Is that why you want to go there so bad? You want to see the mountains?”
“No, no. It’s not the mountains, my dear. It’s that… your mother promised to show me someday and she couldn’t fulfill her promise, so I must go. She wanted me to meet her parents,” he said. I was amazed he answered my question, he usually ignored anything that involved my mother.
“You didn’t know my other grandparents?”
“Nope. They didn’t approve of me. Didn’t think I was worthy of your mother… which I wasn’t. She was better than I was and always will be.” He smiled a bit, digging the walking stick between some rocks.
“How could they not approve if they didn’t even meet you? That’s not fair, is it?”
“Your mother… Anise’s parents just-,” his face scrunched up. He looked down at Storm who scaled the rocks easily. “Remember when we got that new feed from Stoneman? It was cheaper and easier to buy? Better for goats, too.” I slowly nodded my head. Of course he just changes the subject.
“But remember how Storm refused to eat it. He didn’t eat for two days because he kept bleating, asking for the old food. He didn’t even try the new food.” He chuckled. “Anise’s parents were like Storm. I was different. They didn’t like different.” His face shifted into something more serious.
“Storm ended up trying it, though. And he loved it.”
“That’s true— I hope I meet them soon,” he said. Sadness swept across his face briefly before settling back to normal.
We were silent the rest of the way. I thought about what he had said. I never knew my mother’s family rejected him. How was my father different? He was a normal man. Maybe Mother came from a wealthy family and couldn’t stand their daughter marrying a goat herder. That was probably it, I thought.
I shifted my focus to the hike. Snow covered rocks littered the landscape, some slick with ice. Stepping onto a sturdy rock, I dug my walking stick into the crevices. I took a step and almost lost my balance. I looked down to where I would’ve fallen. It was quite a long drop. By the time we got to the village, I was panting heavily. My breaths left me in thick, white vapor. A wall of stone surrounded Hydis: the fishermen’s village. It sat atop a cliff that overlooked the sea and was close to a branch of the Lavender that ran deep with plenty of fish. I could taste the salty air and heard the waves down below crashing against the cliffside as we walked through the village gates.. We were the closest goat herders, so we usually made good money selling our goods here. In the other towns, we competed with others which drove our prices down, but here we could ask for what it was worth. Not too much—we weren’t greedy— but just the right amount.
We arrived in the afternoon, strolling into the main square. My feet ached and I could tell my father’s did too. We sat down by an empty, stone fountain for a while, observing the square. It was gray and the snow had been brushed off the stones. Some horse drawn carriages made their way down pebbled roads. Even with the intense cold, Hydis smelled faintly of fish.
“Aurora, let’s go to the market. I don’t want to stay too long.” I nodded and we walked through a small archway, seeing men and women behind stands yelling about their products.
“Get some eggs! Chicken eggs!” “Fresh eel. Fished right here in Hydis! Fresh as they come!” “Meat! Meat! Chicken, cow, goat, duck. All the meat you want!”
A little boy with sandy hair ran around selling strips of leather. It was rather chaotic. Maids and servants seemed to purchase the most, probably on behalf of their wealthy masters. My father grabbed my hand and tugged me behind him as he looked for a spot against the stone wall. I tugged gently on Storm’s leash. We settled next to the woman selling eggs and my father positioned Storm so that everyone could see. He removed the basket and pack before sitting down on the ground. I sat beside him and fed Storm some feed from the pack. We sold two bottles right away, and with the money, my father sent me off to buy food. I skipped on over to the meat stand first.
The sky was gray and cloudy by the time I bought all the things we needed. I carried them back in my arms, forgetting to bring a sack with me. Once I got to where Storm sat, my father saw me and shot up to his legs.
“Dear, you forgot the sack again. Here let me help you.” He helped place everything in the basket that was now empty. He saw me eye the back.
“Yep, we sold it all. Got some extra silver.” My father smiled and we hiked home happy.
I immediately made meat and cheese sandwiches once we got home. I gave one to my father, who said he was going to eat it while making a surprise for the baby goats. He winked. Chuckling to myself, I decided I’d take a stool outside to rest my legs and just watch the goats run around. I took a bite of my sandwich and moaned—it was so good. As I ate, I watched Midnight wobble around a bit before laying back down, and observed as Sunny climbed up the little rock in the center of the pen while bleating over and over again. I smiled.
After finishing up my sandwich, I figured I had a couple more hours of sunlight and decided to go into the wood. My happy place. I knocked on my father’s bedroom door.
“I’m going for a walk. I’ll be back before sundown!” I heard a swoosh and some thumps before he opened the door. His eyes danced. I knew he was hiding something in that room for me.
“Hey, be safe! I love you, Aurora. And before sundown, no later.” He pecked my cheek and closed the door again. I wonder what he was up to.
The walk to my favorite spot was calm, yet cold. The wood seemed to get colder with each step and I was wondering if a storm was blowing in. When I sat down on the tree trunk, it started to snow. I closed my eyes for a bit, inhaling the fresh smell of the wood. I wrapped my scarf around my head so that my hair wouldn’t get wet from the snow. Some of the scarf fell over my eyes and I couldn’t get it to sit right. I messed with it for a couple minutes before I gave up and let the fabric droop lazily over my left brow.
Then I heard music. Soft, echoing high pitched music. I looked around. The sun was still out, but hidden behind gray clouds, casting an almost green light upon the wood. The music didn’t come from any one direction, it seemed to come from everywhere. I got to my feet and began walking around, checking behind trees. The music was beautiful, but where was it coming from? I turned around, facing the frozen pool. There, a bright light was shining beneath the ice. A white light, like moonlight. I edged closer. Oddly, I didn’t feel panicked or scared; I felt curious and calm.
The music got louder and I gasped as a white head emerged from the pool, followed by white shoulders and a white female body. The woman was beautiful. She floated up, her feet hovering above the ice. Her long white hair flowed around her and a thin, translucent material barely covered her. The woman’s eyes remained closed as she straightened and a hand reached up to brush some hair away from her face. Her whole being emitted a mesmerizing, white light. The music was coming from her. She opened her eyes and they were bright white. She had no iris or pupil. The more I looked, the more I realized she was like liquid. Her whole form seemed to ripple and flow, in waves. She didn’t look solid. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The creature smiled and floated closer to me. Then I heard it. Her lips didn’t move, but I heard her voice. It was beautiful, it was echoing. It sounded like three women speaking at once, each one with a honey, high pitched voice.
“Aurora,” it said. “You don’t remember me?” She giggled and I could have sworn the trees leaned in to get closer.
“You visit this pool frequently. Do you wish to see what lies beyond the river?” Her voice tickled my ears. “Aurora?”
“E-Excuse me,” I couldn’t find any words. “How do you know me?”
She giggled again. “Oh, I thought you knew. I’ve known you since you entered this world.” All I could think was, what was this being?
“It seems that you’ve forgotten… I’m Sen. A forest spirit.” Her voice echoed. The trees definitely were leaning toward us.
“A forest s-s-spirit?”
“Yes. I grow life here and protect it. This is my home.” Her light eyes seemed to look around the forest. She smiled. I felt… comfortable.
“How do you know me? I do not remember you,” I said.
“Your mother introduced us. You were a seedling.”
“My mother?” I asked, my brows raising.
“Anise Delaiza. Your mother. Before she passed on she gave you to me. Did your father not tell you?” Her mouth still didn’t move, but her face looked worried.
“No… You knew my mother?”
“Yes, she was the sweetest being. I loved her dearly. Your father must have forgotten as well…” She twisted away and floated toward an oak tree.
“Wait! Please don’t leave.” My hand reached out. She could tell me about my mother. If she really knew her, that is.
“Hmm?” I had goosebumps.
“How do I know that you truly knew my mother?” She closed her eyes and then smiled. Sen drifted over to me and a dead, brown leaf floated from the forest floor into her palm. Her lips moved, whispering to the leaf. It perked up and turned green, looking new. The leaf then jumped out of her palm and floated into my own. The moment I touched it, an image flashed through my head:
A beautiful woman with blonde hair stumbled into the wood. She was crying and clenching onto her belly. She was pregnant.
“Sen! Sen!” The woman screamed. I realized the images were Sen’s memories. I saw through Sen’s eyes. The woman’s eyes were full of relief upon seeing Sen. I looked down at my—Sen’s white, transparent hands as she grabbed the woman’s.
“Anise, breathe. It will be okay.” The woman looked up into my eyes. Her blue eyes were filled with panic.
“No, no, no, it’s NOT okay! They’re coming!” She threw her head back, and fell to the forest floor, screaming out in pain. The baby was coming.
“Sen…” The image twisted and turned into many colors and then I heard a baby crying.
A small bundle was in the woman’s arms. She cried silently, kissing the baby.
“Take her. Please. And then tell Alder everything. Tell him I love him.” She looked down at the golden skinned, dark haired baby. Her eyes were filled with tears and she kissed her child on the forehead, before handing her over to Sen. I could see the baby closer now. It had rich brown hair and light, golden brown eyes. I could see Sen’s brightness reflect in the baby’s eyes. It stopped crying.
Then Anise limped away, clutching onto the trees as she struggled to keep upright.
The image shifted again into gray.
Sen stared at me, waiting for my reaction. I blinked over and over again. How was that possible? I grabbed onto the sides of my head.
“That was real.” Sen’s voice echoed.
“I thought—” I looked up at Sen. Why would she lie? She had no reason to.
“I thought she died,” my voice hitched, “giving childbirth.”
“Anise sacrificed herself to keep you alive.”
“Is she still alive then?” I felt tears spill onto my cheeks.
“No. I had to witness her departure, as well, but I would never share that memory…” Sen looked… sad. She stared at the forest floor.
“So, my father kept this from me all these years? Why didn’t he tell me?” My head was spinning.
“When I delivered you to Alder and shared the memory, he begged me to take the memory back. He didn’t want to remember. I told him he’d be haunted by the ghost of the memory, his mind would search and feel loss for something that wasn’t there, but he begged anyways. I granted him his wish.” She said.
“Why did she have to die? What happened?”
“She was killed,” she spat. Her voice was filled with hatred.
“Mammonus. He sent his people to kill her.” Sen said, her voice losing its beauty and tranquility.
“Who is he? Why would he want her dead?”
Sen’s features lightened and she stared at me. She smiled and laughed.
“So many questions, little one. Just like Anise… Your father wanted you safe, he’s not to blame for any of this.” Her face shifted, lips shut. “Aurora, you are the dawn. I helped Anise name you.”
Then, a flash of lighting lit up the wood. I looked around noticing it had gotten darker. A loud, boom of thunder crashed through the sky. Sen lowered herself, her feet on solid ground. Her face contorted, looking confused. I felt something hit me. It felt like a wave of cold water, striking me. My blood ran cold and I tasted something bitter and tangy. Sen walked to the edge of the clearing, raising a hand.
“You feel it, too.” She said. I could see glowing particles, floating in the air gather around Sen’s open palm. I felt her inhale sharply. The taste in my mouth worsened, my hairs standing on end.
“What is it?”
“Magic. Bad magic.” Sen lowered her palm. The glowing specks fading.
She turned and looked up at me. I saw what was in my mother’s eyes. Panic.
“Aurora, I can see—something is about to happen.” She looked confused, searching her mind for something.
“I think you should go. I’m sorry.” She whispered. She got up, grabbed my wrist, and flew us into the air toward the edge of the wood. She took me to the edge and left me before disappearing. I heard her whisper Go as I ran home. I could feel it. It felt wrong. The sun was setting and I felt like I was being watched. I ripped the front door open and my father was on the other side, opening it from within. Relief washed over his dark eyes as he gathered me into a tight hug.
“Aurora, thank the Lord.” I could smell the rich, smokiness that embedded itself into his clothes.
“What is going on?” I tried to get out of his arms, but he held me tighter and dragged me inside, locking the door shut behind us. I started panicking. My breathing quickened and I was so confused. Everything was spinning. My father grabbed my face gently.
“It’s going to be alright. Calm down, Aurora. Please.” I closed my eyes, focusing on my breath. He started looking frantically around the room.
“I love you. Trust me.” He kissed my forehead. By now, I was so confused. He grabbed my arm and shoved me into the closet, putting a finger on his lips to shush me. My father then reached into his pocket and pulled out a little book, smaller than his palm. He began reading some of it, a language I didn’t understand. When he was done a small, blue orb surrounded me. I touched the edge of it, but it was solid. My father stood up and dropped the book into the orb. He then reached behind his neck and ripped off his pendant he’d worn my whole life. Both items fell into the orb.
With a neutral face, he shut the closet. I could still see out of the slits in the door. My father walked to the table and began looking around. He saw the drawing I did when I was little on the wall and repeated the words of the unknown language. A blue orb covered the drawing. He entered my bedroom, mumbling under his breath. He came back into the main area. I heard him walk to the kitchen, grab something, and sit down, the chair squealing. He was eating something.
What was going on? My father created magical orbs out of thin air. And now he sat at the table, eating. Sen was real. This was real. Sen was scared, panicked. My father was, too a minute ago, now he’s sitting nonchalantly at the dinner table. I moved to get up when I felt something. I felt cold and sick to my stomach. My arm hairs stood on end. My father stopped eating. I looked out the slits and saw nothing, I could only see a sliver of him at the table. He sat straight and still.
The front door burst open, falling off its hinges. Outside all I saw was darkness. A big, black boot stepped through the entryway followed by another. The another. And another. Soon the whole hall was full of people. I could only see their feet through the slits. A throaty, deep laugh erupted. It made my skin crawl.
“Alder… Delaiza?” The first man that walked in said. “How was everything been without… what’s her name? Was it A geese? A noose? Anise. Haha!” He walked in further, looking around the house. “How you doing, old man?” The man made the house shudder with each step. My father stayed still, it looked like he wasn’t breathing.
“Oh, alright. No fun and games. We are here on orders. Yeah, well rumor has it that you are going to be the next human merchant. Replacing Terran, the old man, that retired. Terran… what a prick. I just loved seeing the light leave those eyes. Right, Guja?” I heard a shuffle.
“Guja here, my apprentice, delivered the killing blow! It was great. Well, now we were told to extract the new guy, yadda yadda. He said no games, but who’s watching? Look, we’ll make this quick. Just tell us what you know about you know who and we’ll make it quick, easy, and, hell, maybe even painless, too.” He chuckled.
“I-I have made it publicly known that I don’t know anything. I don’t know why you are here.” My father’s voice sounded so small compared to the monster in front of him.
“Look. Don’t lie. We all hate that. We know somebody came to you in Hydis. We have eyes everywhere, even though you humans can’t tell. Alder, it’s over.” He snapped his fingers and the other men in boots came forward.
My father began reciting the strange words from earlier and the booted men stopped. The leader just laughed.
“Your tricks won’t work on me, Alder! You knew that… now come! I’ll escort you personally if you don’t want my men touching you.” He snapped his fingers and the booted men went out the door. The leader took slow steps, walking into the kitchen. He came back with something that clinked. I heard him set two things down on the table, then poured something. He was preparing drinks.
“Alder, I’ll let you in on a little secret— or should I say— I know your little secret. It’s actually a very big secret that could get me killed. I don’t want to get into details… but if you come with me, I’ll keep my mouth shut… for now. He’ll find out eventually, you know. But I offer momentary protection, if you come with me. You see… when I found Anise, we—she— wasn’t ready… for what I had planned to do to her. She—” My father jumped out of the chair and lunged for the dark figure. They landed outside of my vision. I heard thumps and a loud crack.
“Oh, Alder. For some reason I actually liked you. Don’t worry. I’ll be quiet for now… but—” The man sighed. He then stepped into vision with my father dragging behind him, his face covered in blood. It dragged him by the hair. My eyes instantly burned and I started crying. I was sobbing. I didn’t care if that monster heard me, I had to do something. I screamed and stood up to open the closet, but I was contained in the blue orb. I screamed louder, pounding the orb. The creature stopped and looked around. His boots came right to the closet door and he kneeled down, still clutching onto my father’s scalp. I stopped. I saw rough, uneven skin on its arms as it leaned down, its face still dark. Then, it stood up and left, dragging my father’s body behind it.