I was relieved as the darkened silhouette of the academy and its surrounds appeared in the distance. Something seemed different as we made our way into the grounds. Something had changed, I could sense it.
Stefan was unusually quiet as the carriage rattled its way to the entrance of the academy. Stefan enlisted the help of a guard and hauled my belongings to my room.
Stefan decided not to spend a night at the academy, but instead he wanted to start his journey home. I was saddened by this, Aqila's bed was free to use for another two days. I wasn't sure if he still didn't trust my father being alone for four weeks with the man-servant Jean and giving into temptation. Maybe he was worried that my Father was in a vulnerable position without him there.
I walked with Stefan to the carriage which was parked under the sprawling branches of a fig tree.
I pulled him in close,
"Farewell, my second Father. I already miss you. Be safe and remember I love you Stefan."
I fought the tears welling in my eyes and held onto him tightly.
"Farewell daughter, the second love of my life. I miss you already too. I love you more than you'll ever understand. Remember i'll see you very soon."
We held onto each other tightly, neither of us wanting to let the other go. It was me who broke the embrace, I knew Stefan needed to leave and start his journey back home. With tear stained cheeks I waved goodbye and watched as the carriage disappeared into the distance. I was alone, I had no friend's and that made my sadness grow.
I dragged myself back to my room and curled up on the bed. The boxes of my belongings made a fresh lot of tears escape my eyes. I dont understand how I still managed to bring so many things, I left my extravagant dresses at home. I was truly overwhelmed.
Even when dinner was being announced I remained in bed.
I found my mind wandering to Aqila, I hoped that nothing bad had happened. She left earlier than she had planned and in a rush too.
I slept without bathing that night.
My melancholy didn't ease the following day either.
I had to force myself to get up, to eat, bathe and start to pack my belongings away.
Classes would be starting in another 3 days, Aqila would be returning tomorrow. I hoped she had adjusted to being partnered with me, as she seemed to be annoyed that we had been partnered last year.
I felt restless as the day dragged on. I needed somewhere to relax, somewhere peaceful. I wandered aimlessly through the hallway's and the different wings of the academy. They were busy in some wings but quiet in others.
Once I had completed this I found myself walking towards one of the many forests that surrounded the academy buildings.
There was a small slightly overgrown track that beckoned me to follow it into the forest. I was sad, bored, and desperate for a chance to relax, so I gave in and started my way along the track. The forest had a dense green canopy, and the many calls of birds and insects filled my ears. The earthy smell of rotting vegetation and wet bark and leaves filled my nose. The smells were inviting.
The track led deeper into the forest, until it came to a stop at a clearing. Sunlight leaked through the holes in the canopy above me illuminating the clearing. The grass looked as though it was soft enough to lay on. Next to the clearing was a wooden table and chairs. Moss covered sections of wood and small tendrils of vines reached up the legs of the table. This place had not been used for a while. I decided to lay upon the grass and close my eyes. I let the smells and sounds surround me, I cleared my mind of depressive and negative thoughts.
I must've fallen asleep because the next time I opened my eyes, the light had faded and the air was cool. It wasn't quite dark yet, but it would soon be evening. I started to panic, it would be night time soon and it would be too dark to follow the track out of the forest. The forest that was alive with the sound of birds and insects of the day had now been replaced with the creatures of the night. The night creatures gave the forest an eerie almost malevolent atmosphere.
I started my way back, but once I left the clearing the light all but disappeared, it was too dark to make out the track, I was starting to panic. It was becoming darker by the second. My heart beat loudly, I was becoming disoriented and confused. I was not sure if it was just my body's reaction to losing the track or if the forest had somehow made me become disoriented. I felt as though the forest was a Venus fly trap and I was the unsuspecting fly drawn to it.
I was lost for what felt like hours, the forest was unrecognisable. I was tired so I sat under a tree. I tried to calm myself, currently I was not acting like a beast tamer but a helpless and vulnerable princess.
I don't recall how long I sat under this tree. Suddenly I heard a loud fluttering of wings. Whatever was flying close by was larger than anything I have heard in my life, even if I was quite sheltered. I stood up and looked around me, I couldn't see a thing. I ran, I didn't get far before the fluttering of wings surrounded me. With a whoosh of air, I was surrounded by a circle of red eyes and hunched shadows like that of old men. Soon a single loud voice echoed through the forest,
"What are you doing here? And so late at night?"
I tried to distinguish what shadow had spoken, but all I saw was red eyes.
"Who is speaking to me? Show yourself!" I demanded. My demands were met with laughter.
"I will show myself once you answer my questions."
"My name Is Misha and I reside in the Okeanos kingdom. I'm currently a second year student at the beast tamer academy. It appears I fell asleep then when darkness fell I lost my way. There I've answered your questions."
A hunched figure to my right stepped towards me. I swung around to face it, to my surprise it was not an old hunched man, but an owl, however he talked and was the height of a man.
Before he could speak and before I could stop myself, I said,
"What are you? How can you be an owl but be as tall, talk, and walk like a human?"
The circle of red eyes blinked in unison, and the owl chuckled,and with his right wing he motioned to the eyes around him,
"We are known by many names, Cowanden or Owlman, are the names we prefer." He paused, as his head tilted side to side, he was studying me.
Probably thinking if I'd make a good meal I thought to myself. He then continued,
"You're not all human are you? Hmmm! This is interesting. What are you? " His eyes went from round as plates to thin slits, as he tried to work me out.
I felt a lump grow in my throat, how did everything other than me, know of the blood that runs through my veins.
"I do not wish to divulge such information, owlman. I don't know if you're going to eat me or kill me. I know nothing of your species." I replied, defiantly.
The owlman chuckled again,
"Smart decision. However, you'll learn more about us in your third year. You will learn that we are completely harmless, and are actually quite appreciative of the home and protection provided to us by the academy. As I'm very comfortable and safe here, I have no desire to hurt, eat, or kill you Misha and will not jeapordise this.
Tonight, I'll lead you to the boundaries of the forest, I cannot take you further as it will be a serious breach of our agreement with the academy and we will be exiled.
Please let this be a lesson to never fall asleep in this forest again, Misha. Come with me." He uttered something and the rest of the Owlman disappeared.
He took me to the boundary just as he promised. The glow of candles from the academy's windows was my beacon home. I turned and thanked the Owlman, but he had already melted into the shadows of the forest.