Chapter 1: Iris
“Grandma, Grandpa,” Iris called as she carried the breakfast she had made for them towards their bedroom.
“We’re up, we’re up, sweet girl,” Vessa said gently as she left the room, Garrick trailing behind her. Garrick looked a bit tired. Iris felt a little guilty for waking them up early, but it was an important day.
“Was this made using the plants in the garden out back?” Garrick asked taking his plate from her. Vessa took her own plate and followed Iris into the dining room.
“Yes. I was so happy to see that the potatoes were finished growing and my power created the herbal seasonings,” Iris grinned. “The eggs are unfertilized ones left by the bird that lives a couple miles North of us. They plan on having babies once they meet their mate, but they haven’t yet.”
“I see,” Garrick said gently, “But don’t you remember what we said last time. You should save the plants in the garden for an emergency. You never know when some situation might require you to need a reserve of food. What if you need to travel outside the forest?”
“I’ll never leave. I don’t have a need to,” Iris said confidently. Garrick and Vessa had often suggested she travel to learn more about the world, but she had everything she needed here. She had love, food, water, friends, and happiness. She was never bored. Even if her friends weren’t human and were instead spirits and animals, she was never lonely. It was fun, even when she had to learn magic and healing from her grandparents. Her own unique magic was much more fun to use though. It was easier to create flowers than herbs, but the act created a sense of warmth in her heart.
“You never know what might happen,” Vessa replied. “You’ll always have a home here in the forest, but what if we are no longer with you and you need to respond to one of our requests. While you can fulfil the requests for Garrick’s potions here, what if you are asked to leave because of monsters terrorizing a nation outside the forest’s bounds? I hate to imagine such a scenario where that is needed, but those requests may come.”
Iris shuddered. Her offensive abilities were just as strong as Vessa’s if not stronger, but the thought of fighting monsters scared her. “That wouldn’t require me to leave for that long though,” Iris managed.
“True, but there might be other reasons that force you to leave the forest. While the Nations forbid intruders on the Great Forest of Lux, there are still those who attempt to break those laws and seek to cause harm. They are few and far between, but you cannot pretend that such people exist. You may need to request help from outside the forest to handle the problem if it becomes too much for you to handle on your own.”
“I understand,” Iris murmured, looking down. She didn’t want to think of such people. She had never seen them in person, but occassionally the trees whispered to her of poachers trying to steal an animal from the Great Forest, though they rarely succeeded. Usually the barrier her grandparents supported kept out all intruders, but it wasn’t always strong enough to keep out persistant offenders, especially at the end of the month. That was what made this day so important.
“Well, it’s too late to take back now, so let’s enjoy your harvest, efforts, and the gifts of the forest,” Vessa said with a weak smile.
Iris was thrilled when they reached the Great Oak. Lux and Nyx were waiting for her. “Iris,” Nyx called with a big smile. “How have you been this month?”
“I’ve learned a lot and had so much fun. Grandma and Grandpa have been urging me to travel though, but I don’t want to leave the forest,” Iris pouted.
“They are right, child,” Lux said ruffling her long, dark brown hair. “Our influence goes much beyond the bounds of the forest, so you won’t ever be truely alone, and the Great Spirit Lords that live outside the forest are quite eager to meet you as well. As a human, you need to experience more of the world, see how humans live in places that are not covered in our precious oak trees, the towns and cities, the marketplaces and festivals. Eventually, you might even meet the one who is bound to your soul. You should experience all of it, all the good things that human society has to offer.”
“But I’m so happy here. I doubt anything could be quite as amazing as living in the forest,” Iris murmured.
Nyx knelt next to her and hugged her, “Sweetie, we know that. The forest will always be your home, and we will always welcome you. You never have to hesitate to return here, but seeing what lies beyond the forest is also important. Your whole world is this forest, but there is so much more to see. We want your world to grow even bigger so you can find even more happiness.”
“I’ll think about it. I’ve read that it snows outside the Great Forest, so I don’t want to leave when it’s that cold,” Iris managed.
“That makes sense. Snow is quite beautiful, but it can be harsh if you don’t have shelter. The magic Vessa has taught you would alleviate much of the danger, but it is best to be safe,” Lux embraced her and Nyx. “Now, how would you like to join your grandparents in the ritual. Truthfully, you could probably complete the whole ritual all by yourself since you have learned from both of them. Just think of this as practice.”
Iris felt a thrill of excitement rush through her veins. “I’d love to help Grandma and Grandpa.”
She stood on one side of the Great Oak, between her grandfather and grandmother. In her left hand she released healing magic while her right hand produced protection magic. Iris waited for her grandparents to do the same before releasing her magic into the Great Oak with them. Iris felt the magic spread over the forest, touching every tree, every blade of grass, every leaf of every plant. “Wonderful job, Iris,” Verra praised her. “You have outdone both of us.”
“Indeed, you were quite skilled during the ritual. I doubt you could learn much more from either of us,” Gerrick smiled. Her grandparents held her in a gentle hug.
“What a beautiful job,” Lux praised her as well. “Please let us know ahead of time if you decide to leave the Great Forest. The Great Spirits of the tigers and wolves want to provide companions and protection for such a trip. There shouldn’t be any danger to you, but they would serve as a reminder that you bear our blessings.”
“Companions?” Iris asked.
“Yes, one of Fenrir’s wolves and Byakko’s white tigers. Their children need to explore the world as well, so it would serve both purposes. They do quite adore you as I’m sure you know.”
“They haven’t come by the house lately,” Iris murmured.
“They got in trouble a couple months ago. They’ll be back in touch by the next ritual,” Nyx said with a smile.
“What type of trouble?” Iris asked.
“Oh, nothing you have to worry about, they just fought with each other and their parents are punishing them for the fight,” Nyx chuckled. “They’ll learn from their mistake and stop picking on each other soon.”
“They better,” Lux grumbled. “They caused quite a mess in the Western part of the forest.”
“When they come by I’ll talk to them about the fight,” Iris assured the Great Spirit Lords. “I’ll make sure they don’t fight again.”
“No,” Lux said firmly, “That is not your responsibility nor your fault. They need to learn their lesson and grow from it themselves.”
“Okay,” Iris wondered what the pair had fought over, but the concern quickly faded as her grandparents waved and gave a half bow to Lux and Nyx before gesturing for her to follow them home.
Iris was practicing making healing potions when she realized that the sun was already setting. She had been so focused, she hadn’t noticed that her grandparents hadn’t left their bedroom all day. Iris stretched and stood from the table, setting aside the potions. She knocked on the door as she wondered why they hadn’t said anything all day. Perhaps they had left before she had woken up, but they rarely did that anymore. There was no answer.
Iris eased the door open and was immediately greeted with a familiar stale scent. Her heart sank at the scent, but she begged she was wrong. “Granny? Gramps?” she said lightly, walking towards their still figures under the covers. Her hands reached for Grandma Verra first only to find her skin cold to the touch. No, she choked on her breath. She fumbled to reach for her grandmother’s wrist to feel for a pulse like Grandpa had taught her. After feeling nothing there but more coldness, tears began to run down her face. She quickly scrambled over to Grandpa Garrick’s side only to find the same coldness, the same stillness.
Iris was no longer able to hold back her cries in that moment, sobbing heavily as she realized that she would never hear her grandparents’ voices again, never see their smiles again, never hear them scold or praise her, never eat breakfast with them again. Why? Why did they have to leave her now? As she continued to sob a strange sensation passed over her skin. She noticed a burst of color in her hair. Flower petals grew in her brown hair, some red and some white. When they stopped growing she recognized them as smaller versions of white chrysanthemums and red spider lilies. The sight shocked her out of her sobs. She had always been able to summon herbs and flowers, and flowers sometimes sprouted around her when she walked barefoot in the forest or laid down for a nap in the sun, but never had her hair become intertwined with those flowers.
Why now, and why these flowers? Iris suddenly remembered one of the books that her grandparents had her read. These flowers were associated with grief and loss. Her heart ached as she realized that the flowers had grown in response to her grief, but why were they attached to her? What did she do now? There was another week before the usual ritual so she wouldn’t see Lux or the other Great Spirit Lords until then, and Fenrir and Byakko’s children still hadn’t stopped by. Oh, right, Verra had mentioned that most people buried their dead or burned them and spread their ashes in a place significant to them or the surviving family. Iris couldn’t bear to burn, the term was cremate Iris recalled suddenly, her grandparents.
She forced her legs to carry her outside as she took in the faint light of twilight. She wouldn’t have long before darkness fully set on the forest. Iris found a spot near the oak tree that Grandpa Garrick had hung a swing for her when she had begun to run around the forest still in sight of the house. Grandma Verra had created a bench for them to sit and watch over her nearby. Iris used the earth magic her grandmother had taught her to dig two deep holes in the ground, side by side. They would be together even in death, Iris decided as she joined the holes to form one hole instead. She would lay them side by side as they had passed in their bed.
Iris returned to the house and used another magic to lift their bodies off the bed. They hovered in the air as she guided their bodies outside and into the dirt. She hoped she was doing this right. Once she was certain they were settled Iris sobbed again as she used earth magic to replace the dirt over their graves. She used her magic to fuse several of the lose rocks and boulders into a headstone. She guided the magic to etch in the words In Loving Memory: Grandmother Verra and Grandfather Garrick. Iris wasn’t sure this was the right way to do this but she hoped they would like it. Iris glanced at the flowers in her hair, the grief welling up again. She ran her fingers through her hair and tore out a few handfuls of the chrysanthemums and spider lilies. A few strands of hair came out with the blossoms. Iris knelt at the grave and laid the flowers upon them. That was what grandmother had said people did, right?
She stayed next to her grandparents’ grave long after night had fallen. It was only when the elements started to steal her strength that she forced herself to her feet. Iris didn’t even bother eating when she returned to the quiet house. She put the healing potions in their proper place in storage before collapsing on her own bed in a heap, sobbing again. What would she do now? How would she go on without her grandparents to guide her, to support her?