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The Lifting

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The Monk

By the time the sun was about to rise and the day was about to begin, Elaine and Lou were already riding south to the nearest village on one of the spotted mares. Lou was bouncing up in down in the saddle in front of Elaine from excitement, making Elaine smile despite the fatigue lingering behind her eyes.

Elaine was careful to keep to the trail. She hadn’t ridden along it since the start of last winter and she had no idea what the road conditions would be like. Her father used to tell her that the trail to the villages was particularly treacherous right after the winter months, while the soil was still damp and unstable. The village wasn’t far from their cottage, but it would take half the day to get there. That was if the road conditions didn’t force them to turn around.

“Stop squirming, Lou. You’re going to fall off Madame.” Elaine said, trying to grab ahold of Lou to keep her still. Even though Lou couldn’t hear her, Elaine knew that Lou could feel her voice vibrating from her chest from sitting in front of her. Though she couldn’t hear what her sister was saying, Lou was ignoring her all the same, as all five-year-old’s tend to do.

Elaine listened to Madame’s hoofs beating against the ground, the gentle swaying motion making her eyes want to close. Lou was much more excitable. She had already attempted to grab the reigns from Elaine and push Madame into a gallop, much to her sister’s dismay. Elaine was nearly about to make her sister walk before she suddenly settled down, most likely growing tired from the hot sun.

The road head forked, the signpost reading how the left trail led to Fairhaven and the right trail led to Unbrook, though Unbrook had long been abandoned.

After their mother died, Elaine’s father depended on her to care for Lou, who was just a newborn. Her father would bring food from different ports to sustain them all during the year and would hunt in the fall for meat during winter. There was no need to travel into town, not that it would have been possible with a child so young. Elaine wasn’t able to visit the villages until almost four years later, when Lou was old enough to keep herself in a saddle.

Fairhaven hadn’t existed back then, and Elaine and her family always visited Unbrook. When Elaine was finally able to return after so many years, she was devasted to find the town in ruins. All the villager’s belongings were left untouched, some homes even had their tables set for dinner. There was no sign of disaster or disease, no reason or clue as to where the villagers went.

Elaine tried a few months later to try the southernmost villages but found them in the same state as well. It was during her return journey that she stumbled upon the newly built Fairhaven. All the villagers knew nothing of the lost southern villages, including Unbrook. There was nothing else that Elaine could do for the lost villagers, however, besides wonder what became of them all.

The trail led them down a steep hill, and Elaine could feel Madame struggling not to slide through the mud and loose soil. The Fairhaven village was tucked underneath a ridge, one that was almost tall enough to be considered a mountain had it not lost its peak during a mudslide.

The homes were made from the standard seashell paste and brick, not much unlike Elaine’s family cottage. The villagers had migrated from a land out east, surrounded by towering mountains and little coverage from the harsh weather. When they arrived at the coast, they thought they needed the same sturdy roofs, small windows, and thick walls to keep them warm. Come summer, nearly everyone in the village was overwhelmed from the heat. They were friendly enough to Elaine and her sister but tended to show more respect to her father and brothers on the rare occasion they came into town with her in the winter. This bothered Elaine a great deal, as she was not treated in such a way at Unbrook. There was no other village that was closer, however, and Elaine had to make do.

“Good morning, Marg.” Elaine said, stopping in front of a rather large and pasty-looking woman as they stopped at the entrance of the village. Marg was one of the oldest living residents at Fairhaven, and spent her days running the market stalls when she wasn’t helping her daughter look after her grandchildren.

Marg was sitting in a wooden chair on the porch of her house, a toddler bouncing on her knee. She looked through her long gray bangs and puffed on a wooden pipe with crude images of mountains craved on the sides. The smoke surrounded her and the child in a thick cloud, though neither of them seemed to notice.

“Mornin’.” Marg said, her voice clipped. She didn’t particularly care for Elaine, believing her to be too well spoken for a fisherman’s daughter. She also didn’t particularly care for Lou, who she considered to be a spawn of a demon, or perhaps a changeling, due to her inability to speak or hear.

Marg tolerated the fisherman’s daughters because she had a tender spot for children who had lost their mothers. That, and she had a taste for the yellowtail her father brought in every summer.

“Got any stalls still open?” Elaine said, though she would very well see that many of the stalls were vacant. She couldn’t choose a stall without Marg’s blessing and permission, and if anyone dared to set up shop without it – they never traded at Fairhaven again. They also had to spend several months re-growing their hair afterwards as well.

Marg took a long pull from her pipe, her beady black eyes moving between Elaine and Lou, whose wild hair and toothy smile didn’t help convince Marg she wasn’t a demon-spawn.

She blew out a thick stream of smoke, her voice deep and hoarse as she said, “Last stall, right side.”

Elaine nodded her head in thanks, though she was silently cursing the old hag. The stalls were made up of wooden tables with thin decorative blankets separating everyone’s goods from each other. The stalls stretched down the center of the main market and ended just as the road curved up and became the ridge. Naturally, the stalls that received the most patrons were placed in the center of the market, and the ones who were placed at the very end received very few. There were plenty of open stalls that Elaine could have taken, but Marg had been feeling very generous today.

Elaine swung off Madame, reaching up for Lou next and setting her on the ground next to her. She handed Lou her toy bear and pointed to a grove of trees a few yards away where she could play. Lou sprinted away without a backwards glance, leaving Elaine to unpack her trading cloths alone.

Her initial excitement she had last night was now gone, leaving her with only a belly full of cold regret that made her feel sick. Elaine had a strong urge to head back home. She and Lou would be able to make it until their father returned home, even if that meant Elaine would go stir-crazy for another month or so. It would be better than this humiliation Marg was putting her through.

She eyed all the people circling the stalls in the center of the market, their voices sounding far away. Elaine felt almost silly setting her tablecloths and handkerchiefs out. No one was going to venture down her way. No one even knew she was down here to begin with. Elaine wanted to burn Marg’s nasty wooden pipe.

With her trading cloths arranged nicely on the booth’s tabletop, Elaine waited under the hot sun for anyone to approach her. As her shoulders baked from the hot afternoon sun, she pulled her gardening hat from her bag. She fiddled with the hem of her shirt, wondering if she should pack up early.

“Hello.”

Elaine looked up and nearly gawked at the man standing in front of her.

He clearly wasn’t native to Fairhaven, or anywhere along the coast for that matter. The stranger wore a thick brown cloak that looked like it was made from sack cloth, hid face partially hidden underneath his hood. Over his shoulder he carried a simple bag made from the same material as his cloak, his hands hidden inside his long sleeves.

“Hello.” Elaine said. She could feel her ears turning red. She had never seen a man dressed so strangely before.

The man looked down at Elaine’s work, his fingertips hovering above her stitchwork.

“You have excellent craftsmanship.” He said.

“Thank you.” Elaine said. She couldn’t seem to say much else.

“Do you dye the threads yourself?” he said.

“I do.”

“How exquisite.”

Elaine merely nodded, knowing that she was staring too long at the poor man.

“Are you from around here?” Elaine said.

The man shook his head. “I’m only passing through. I’m traveling to the southern villages.” He said.

“You’re out of luck,” Elaine said. “they’re abandoned. No one’s lived there for at least a couple of years or so.”

“Who said I was looking for the people?” the man said, his voice quiet.

Elaine gave him a strange look but didn’t question him further.

Elaine could feel the eyes of the other villagers now beginning to stare at her, their voices carrying over for them both to hear.

“He’s a strange fellow, I’ll tell you that.”

“Coming into town dressed like that?”

“He’s going to sweat himself to death in this heat.”

“But don’t all the monks dress like that?”

Elaine looked back over at the man, her eyes wide.

“You’re a monk?” she asked.

“That is simply but one name we may call ourselves, but yes.”

“Why are you wearing a sack cloak?”

“My brothers and I exist only on our basic needs. We take no more from the earth than what we need.”

“Do they make you keep your hood up all the time?”

The monk laughed, his voice carrying across the market. Elaine wished he wouldn’t be so loud.

Without warning, the monk took off his hood, revealing his shaved head. His eyebrows were left alone, along with his scraggily black beard that reached almost to his collarbone. The monk’s eyes were a stark blue, making his features almost look pale and withered in comparison.

“Does that make you feel more comfortable now that you can see my face?” he asked.

“You’re in danger of getting a nasty sunburn, but yes.”

The monk chuckled.

Elaine heard a sudden snap and turned to see Lou breaking off one of the branches of the trees.

“Lou!” she shouted, before sprinting over and taking the branch from her hand. She shook her head at Lou, and in response Lou stuck her tongue out at her. Elaine pointed to the branch and shook her head again. “No more.”

Lou rolled her eyes and turned away, returning to her stuffed bear. Elaine sighed, throwing the stick away from her and returning to the stall, where the monk was still standing. Only now his eyes were trained on Lou, his features pressed down in a thoughtful way.

The monk then gave Lou a strange look, as though he somehow recognized her. Elaine shuffled from foot to foot, conscious of how many curious eyes were now on them. She wished that the monk would either buy something or move along – at this rate, she would be lucky to sell anything today, let alone buy a salted pork.

“Your sister,” said the monk suddenly, catching Elaine’s eyes again. “has she lost her voice?”

Elaine felt her fingers curl into her palms. The monk was now venturing into an uncomfortable subject, and Elaine was done with all his pleasantries. She was always cautious whenever a stranger asked about Lou muteness. She hated the judgmental stares and sickly-sweet voices they used around Lou, acting as though she were a babe still needing someone to hand feed her.

“My sister hasn’t lost anything.” Elaine said, her voice hard. Her sister was not some broken thing in need of fixing, no matter how many times the other villagers have tried to convince her.

The monk gave Elaine a soft smile, “I did not mean to offend.” He said, “I have encountered many children like your sister at the monasteries. Their families bring them to us so we may pray over them and cast out the devils and demons that they believe reside within them and steal their ability to speak.”

Elaine felt her heart beating in her throat. “There is no devil in my sister.” She said. Elaine could see some of the villagers were now stopping what they were doing to listen in on the conversation. If the monk made the people believe that her sister was possessed, no one would ever speak to or trade with her family again.

The monk shook his head, his brown sack robe swaying from the movement. “I don’t believe your sister does either. Perhaps a bit of young mischief, but that is to be expected.” He said. The monk then leaned closer to Elaine, stopping just a few inches from her face. She could smell mint on his breath and wondered if all monks smelled like garden herbs. “Your sister cannot hear as well, am I correct?” he said.

Elaine could only nod.

“And she was born this way?”

Again, Elaine nodded.

“I’m assuming neither of your parents or immediate family have that same shade of blonde hair and gray eyes?”

Elaine shook her head no, her stomach tight with knots. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but her words seemed to fail her then, and she said nothing instead.

“I have worked with many children like your sister.” The monk said, glancing to where Lou played under the trees a few yards away. “I think I can help her.”

“I’m not letting you take her to some monk palace.” Elaine said, her voice suddenly returning to her.

“No?” said the monk, his eyebrows drawn inwards in confusion. “No matter,” he said, and pulled a book from his side bag. The pages were wrapped in a strange black leather that Elaine had never seen before. The monk opened the book, revealing drawings of hands forming strange shapes. Next to them were handwritten notes.

“I wrote this book for people like your sister who cannot speak like you and I. Instead of using her voice to speak to you, I believe she can use her hands.” The monk said.

“Her hands?” Elaine said, the disbelief evident in her voice.

“It is not as farfetched as you might think. I have practiced my theory with several different children, some even younger than your sister. After working with these children, they were able to communicate with their families about how they felt, what they wanted, and what they needed. It’s all explained in the book.” The monk said.

Elaine bit her lip, glancing back down at the book between them. She wondered if what this monk was saying was truthful, but who ever heard of a dishonest monk? Elaine reached out, her fingers tracing a drawing of a hand. The word ‘sister’ was written next to it. She brought her hand up to her chin and mimicked the motion she saw on the paper, then stole a sideways glance at Lou, who was no longer playing.

Elaine met the eyes of her little sister, who looked from Elaine to the monk, confusion clearly written in her eyes. Elaine knew Lou was always full of questions and she had no way of asking them. She had so much she wanted to tell Lou, to ask her. Elaine had no doubt that Lou would have much to say as well.

“How much do you want for it?” Elaine said, the words slipping out before she could stop them. Elaine had no money, or anything of value to a monk. She had no idea what he would demand for that book, and he could easily tell from her face that he had convinced her on how precious the knowledge inside of it was.

“Money has little meaning to me, and while your stitch work is commendable, I have little need for decorative tablecloths or handkerchiefs.” He said.

Elaine felt her heart fall, and something weighed down heavily inside her belly. To have someone give her hope and only have it taken away all in the span of mere minutes was more than she could take, and sure enough, Elaine felt the beginnings of tears building up in her eyes.

“There is, however, something else that I need.” He said.

“What is it?” Elaine said quickly, wincing at the desperate sound of her voice.

“I’ve heard about a blossom that blooms in a forest north of here. Along with my monastery work, I am particularly fond of learning about horticulture, or different species of plants if you will. I was told that this plant is very beautiful and grows nowhere else along the coast.” He said.

“What is this plant called?” Elaine said. There were many flowers that were native only to the coastlines, and the stories of their uncommon splendor would attract a curious visitor from time to time. Elaine knew better than to hunt for such flowers, however, as it was rare for anyone to find them. Elaine knew of people who spent years searching for the flowers, only to come up emptyhanded.

“The flower is called the Emerald Blossom,” said the monk, “and a trustworthy informant told me it could be found in a northern forest –“

“The Lifting.” Elaine finished for him.

“Yes,” said the monk, his eyes gleaming. “have you heard of such a place?”

Elaine nodded. She knew the flower the man spoke of, and how rare it was to acquire it. She also knew of the Lifting, one of the only forests along the coast that had a name. It was half a day’s ride north of her family’s home.

The Lifting forest is not a forbidden place, nor is it dark or ominous. Elaine had visited that part of the forest on occasion and nothing bad had ever happened, but she had always been accompanied by her father or brothers. Some stories said that fairies lived in that part of the forest, along with the tales of monstrous wolves that brought omens of death. Worst of all were the stories of witches, who hexed young girls to kidnap them and eat them for supper.

While Elaine doubted many of these stories, there was an oddness to the forest that even she could not describe. Even with her great inner need for adventure, on the uncommon occasion that she did visit the forest, the hairs on her arms were always raised. And while her father always allowed her to enter the forest, he always did so with a warning: always stay on the path and always leave before sunset.

Elaine was sure that the Emerald Blossom would not be growing anywhere near a path.

“Yes,” said Elaine, “I know of the Lifting.”

“Wonderful! I must travel to the southern villages but will return in three days’ time. Surely that will be enough time to recover the blossom?” said the monk. Elaine watched as the monk flipped the book closed and stored it back into his bag, his eyes never leaving hers.

Elaine considered the deal the monk offered her. A flower for a book; but it was not just any flower and it was not just any book. There were many unknown risks of venturing into the Lifting without her father and brothers to look out for her, but she couldn’t wait for their return. The monk would be far from her by the time they returned, taking the book with him. A book that might be Elaine’s only chance of communicating with Lou.

Something hot grew inside Elaine’s chest. A tendril of smoke that wrapped around her heart and lungs, a bolt of lightning that seared across her skin. Her blood pulsed with adrenaline and energy. She knew the feeling well; it came whenever she was about to do something foolish.

Elaine hesitated, but before she let her resolve slip, she blurted a fast ‘yes’, to the monk, then shook her head as though she could not believe what she had just done.

The monk gave her a parting smile, his eyes flashing as he gave her a wave and departed from her booth. Elaine sat there and watched his retreating figure until he was out of sight and let out a breath that she hadn’t known she had been holding. The heat in her chest was beginning to cool, but she could still feel the static hovering over her skin.

“What have you gotten yourself into, Elaine?” she asked herself, shaking her head. She wasn’t the kind of girl who picks flowers for strangers from the Lifting. She wasn’t a girl who made promises she knew she couldn’t keep.

The monk’s deal promised adventure, however, and it was a call she could not ignore.

Elaine gathered her belongings and quickly threw them into her horse’s saddle bag. It was only midday, and the market center was in full swing as it buzzed with activity, but Elaine was ready to go home and contemplate what she had just done. And when she was prepared to accept her lack of responsible decision-making skills, she would have to devise a plan for finding the Emerald blossom.

Elaine unknotted the reigns and lead the mare towards Lou. Lou glanced up as she saw them approach and pointed back over to the trading stall.

“No,” Elaine shook her head. “we have to go home now.” She patted the saddle to try and prove her point. Lou frowned, realizing they were about to return home. Instead of throwing a fit like she would usually do when Elaine tried to make her leave the market, she let Elaine place her into the saddle without complaint. She didn’t squirm or try to pinch her sister as they rode out of the village and kept deathly still as she took in all the eyes of the villagers that watched them leave.

It wasn’t until they had left sight of the village and had returned to the main path that Lou looked over her shoulder at Elaine.

“What is it?” Elaine said.

Lou moved so she was facing Elaine in the saddle, then cupped her hands together and opened them slowly, as though they were the pages of a book.

“Book?” Elaine said, her eyes wide. “Did you mean ‘book’?” She copied what Lou did with her hands, and Lou nodded her head. Elaine was so surprised that she had been able to understand her sister that she had almost forgotten the question.

“You’re asking about the book – you mean the monk who came by the stall? The one with the hood?” Elaine said placing her hands around her face to try and resemble what the monk had looked like. Lou gave her a curious look, but nodded all the same.

“He wanted to trade me the book for a flower.” Elaine said, speaking her words slowly. Lou gave her a clueless look. She didn’t understand.

“Here,” Elaine said, plucking a cherry blossom from a branch that hung over their heads. “the monk has the book,” Elaine said, acting out the two signs that Lou had made, “and he’ll give me the book for a flower.” She made the book sign again, this time showing Lou the flower afterwards. Lou stared at the flower in her sister’s hand, and despite Elaine’s attempts, she looked more confused than ever.

“It’s okay.” Elaine said, sighing. She let her hand run down the length of Lou’s hair, gently tucking a loose strand behind her ear. “I’m going to find a way to talk to you.”

. . .

Though they had left the village earlier than normal, Elaine and Lou did not arrive back to the cottage until the sun was about to set.

Elaine was quick to start a fire and change Lou into her nightgown. She hadn’t even taken off her shoes before Lou was back at her side, tugging at her sleeve.

“Are you hungry?” Elaine asked Lou, pointing at her belly. Lou nodded, rubbing her eyes tiredly. They had both had a long day, and Elaine still needed to start dinner before either of them could go to bed.

Elaine picked her sister up and laid her on her bed, kissing the top of her head before venturing into the kitchen to see what she could make.

“I think some bread and eggs will have to do.” Elaine said to herself. She felt like she was talking to herself more than usual nowadays.

It was a simple meal to make, and she only used one pan for both of their portions. While Elaine waited for the eggs to cook through, she thought back to what the monk had told her at the market earlier that day. She essentially promised him an Emerald Blossom in three days-time. Not only would it take her a full day to ride to the Lifting and back to the village, but she also needed to find an Emerald Blossom to bring back with her. The Lifting went on for miles in all directions. Even if Elaine knew what she was looking for, she would still have to navigate the hundreds of acres of land to find it.

The major issue is that Elaine had never seen an Emerald Blossom in her life.

She had heard about it from her mother when she was younger, and her father mentioned a time where he thought he caught a glimpse of one when he was a young boy, but chalked it down to his imagination. The flower had been described to her well enough from their stories: it had a long stem coated with spiny filaments, three heart-shaped leaves, and a flower with the same deep shade as an emerald, hence its name.

Everyone along the coast knew what the Emerald was supposed to look like, but Elaine knew there was a possibility that their guesses where far from reality.

Just as the eggs were about to burn, Elaine pulled the pan from the fire and carefully scooped the eggs into a bowl and topped it with bread. She did the same with her bowl and turned towards Lou, who was fast asleep. Elaine set the dishes on the floor and took a seat next to Lou on the bed.

“Wake up, Lou. Eat some dinner and then you can go back to bed.” Elaine said, shaking her shoulder as she did so.

Lou turned her head and glared at Elaine through one opened eye, her mouth a grim line as she sat up and took the bowl from her sister. She shoveled the food into her mouth faster than Elaine had ever seen her do it before, then promptly handed her the bowl back and laid down to sleep.

“Alright.” Elaine said, holding back a bit of laughter.

She took Lou’s bowl and sat at the table while she finished her meal, not bothering to light a candle or an oil lamp. The fire would have to do for tonight. Not that Elaine needed much light to eat anyway.

She took her time cleaning the bowls after she finished eating. Though Elaine felt tired, she wasn’t quite ready to go to bed just yet. She wiped her hand across her apron before moving towards her father’s bedroom door.

The hinges squeaked as the door opened, and for once, Elaine was somewhat glad that Lou couldn’t hear how loud she was. The room was as dark as it always was, the low light from the fire doing little to help Elaine navigate her way through the dark. She moved across the room until her toe hit the leg of her father’s desk, making her curse under her breath.

Her hands moved over the desk’s surface, feeling several navigation tools that her father used when plotting out fishing routes along the coast. She moved over them, careful not to drop anything.

Elaine let out a huff as her hands came up empty, finally giving in and returning to the kitchen to grab a candle. When she returned to her father’s bedroom, she held the flame over the same spot she had been in before, her eyes searching. She opened a second drawer underneath the desk and rifled through its contents as well, but still could not find what she was looking for.

“Where did you put it?” Elaine asked out loud. She stood up straight, leaving the candle on the desk as she did a full circle sweep of the room. She knew it was in here somewhere, she just needed to figure out where.

“Maybe the wardrobe?” she said. Elaine turned and took a slow step towards it, suddenly stopping as she felt a plank of wood shift beneath her feet. Grabbing the candle, she leaned down and pressed against one end of the plank and watched as it sunk towards the ground.

Using her nails, Elaine pried the wooden plank up and set it aside, leaning down into the hole it had created with her candle in hand. She reached into the dark hole and pulled a single object out of it.

“Why would you hide this, papa?” Elaine said, revealing a single sheet of folded paper.

Quickly replacing the plank, Elaine made sure her father’s door closed firmly behind her before rushing to the kitchen table. Her hands shook as she unfolded the paper, her mind still reeling from the fact that her father had taken the effort to hide this from his children. From her. But why?

With the paper unfolded, Elaine sat back onto a chair and peered at the paper in front of her. It was a map of the Lifting, detailing the exact paths to take and which areas to avoid, but it nothing she hadn’t seen before. Her father let her hold this same map while they hiked the paths in the Lifting when she was younger. She knew about this map. She had seen it and used it many times. So why would he hide it? To keep her from traveling into the Lifting alone? Why would her father suspect her of doing such a thing?

Elaine took a closer look at the small details in the map that her father had penned over the years, wondering if he had added something important to it since she had last seen it. It all looked the same – the deep river that snaked across the eastern side, the sea cliffs to the north, the valley meadow to the south, and the path that cut through the middle of it all.

Elaine knew her father, and he was not a secretive man. If anything, he was far too honest with the people around him, his virtue sometimes becoming his fault. What was so important from this map that he needed to hide it from his own children?

She traced her finger along the worn paper, traveling up the path and along the gagged edges of the northern cliffs. Elaine had never traveled that far north with her family when they visited the Lifting. Her father said it was always too far and too dangerous to attempt. Her finger moved downward along the deep river until it rested along the outer boarder of the valley meadow. Just as Elaine was about to pull her hand away, she paused directly over the space, then lifted her finger, and rubbed it against her thumb.

It came away greasy.

She lifted the map and stared at the same spot over the meadow, seeing a slightly darker smudge that she hadn’t noticed before. Elaine touched the spot again and lifted her finger to her tongue, tasting the bitterness of fish oil. She stood and moved towards the fire, nearly tripping over Lou’s shoes as she held the map to the flames.

The greasy splotch wasn’t a splotch at all – it was a tiny picture. Elaine squinted her eyes to take in the fine details, her lips parting in shock as she continued to stare at it.

This wasn’t just a tiny picture – it was a symbol.

“It can’t be,” Elaine said, her voice sounding like a rush of air.

There was no mistaking the symbol now as the light from the fire revealed her father’s secret addition. The long stem, three heart-shaped leaves, and the blossom – it was the Emerald Blossom. Her father had found the location to the Emerald Blossom.

Without another word, Elaine folded the map back and set it onto the table. She turned away from it, her thoughts one large jumble in her head. Her father had found an Emerald Blossom, marked the spot with fish oil, then hid it in the floorboards.

He could have used a pen to mark it, but the fish oil would have looked like an accidental smudge to a careless eye. Her father had gone through great effort to hide the location of the flower. Why? Did he plan on recovering the plant at some point to sell it? Why would he keep such a thing from her?

It also struck Elaine how odd her situation was becoming. After making a deal with a mysterious monk for a rare Emerald Blossom, she later finds a map detailing the exact area where she could find one? It was all so much of a coincidence that it almost felt fake, that someone was purposefully trying to lure her into the Lifting.

Elaine’s movements felt sluggish as she moved towards her bed, knowing fully well that she wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all tonight. The entire day had presented her with too many strange events that couldn’t be made sense of, and Elaine wasn’t about to take the time and make sense of it all.

Without even bothering to change into her nightgown, Elaine pulled back the blankets to her bed and laid down, her back aching as she stared up at the ceiling. The strange feeling that had been eating at her since her interaction with the monk at the market was now gone, replaced with an odd thought that she was somehow meant to meet that monk and find the map under the floor. Was this fate pushing her towards the Lifting, or was it something much more wicked than that?

Elaine forced herself to close her eyes, praying to the seas that her mind would stop spinning, even if only for a few minutes, so she could rest.

Her mind did not slow, however, and her thoughts only continued to grow and crowd inside her head. One moment Elaine was staring out one of the windows above her, trying to distract her mind away from thoughts of green flowers and hidden maps, and the next moment, she was watching the sky turn from black to pink. Before she knew it, the sun was rising, and Lou was stirring in her bed next to her.

“I will not be afraid.” Elaine said, her voice barely a whisper.

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