PS: if you haven’t read the excerpt and chapter one, here are the links:
Location: *Druidhkay (from dridhkay, sanskrit word for “strong”)
Two days after the summoning to the Hall of Forbearance..
Day after the Brael Festival on the border of Nymph, Elves and Human civilisation, the students of Druidhkay Academy were finishing up their moving landscapes of the Union Spot, trying to get it done before the mighty Blue Wind descended from the mountain tops. It was a bright day, sky a beautiful shade of blue with a few stray white clouds lurking around. The signs of the festival were still everywhere, bamboo lanterns still hung suspended in the air above the river and the decorative vines still engulfed the trees. There was blue and silver glitter all over the ground and sparkling in the water.
Union Spot was a place where three rivers met; one crossing through Human settlement, one Nymph and one Elven, and uniting them all to create a border. Right at the edge of it was Earth’s (at least this part of Earth’s) most famous arts academy run by the Elves for the past three centuries. The building was a marvel of nature itself, its high walls were covered with ivies of different colours, predominantly red. In the evenings, when the sun was low, just before taking a dip beyond the mountains, it filled the valley, the rivers and the building with a blinding red glow. Within this light that the locals referred to as the Bleeding Hour, Druidhkay Academy looked like it was on fire. The red ivy leaves and green flowers gave the impression of soaring red flames. It was a sight to behold.
Druidhkay wasn’t just an art academy, it was perhaps the only place on Earth that saw diversity in its full form – humans, nymphs, saryaals, syths and sometimes, very rarely, even an odd mage. Beings of magic such as Plinthors, Ravens etc roamed free of their will within its vast grounds.
Art was a language that every race shared. To get into the academy was a privilege in itself, however, any real miss-fit found a home in the walls that enclosed the larger than life building. Whether you worked there in one of its many museums, cafes, hotels or lands, studied there, stayed there in passing, or found refuge, there were many ways you could be a part of this place. Once you passed through one of the many gates of Druidhkay, if you were worthy, you were welcome to stay for as long as you needed refuge.
Soledad and Zaera were finishing up their assignments of painting a moving landscape of the Union Spot. Being an elf, Zaera already had the water in her painting flowing in a very realistic form – her unique triangular brush strokes cutting through the canvas.
“Unfair, this is blatant racism.” Said Soledad, throwing a brush towards Zaera. It hit her square on the left cheek and she yelped an ouch. Zaera was a tall Elf, with hair as black and wavy as the night, and eyes that felt too big for her otherwise small face. Her unique patterned tattoo flowed by the side of her left pointy ear. Every Elf had a unique tattoo on their face…
Her dark skin always had a golden glow, or at least a glow that Soledad, being a Syth could see. In front of Zaera, Soledad always felt very short, even though she was tall for a normal Syth. With her unusual height yet her tanned skin that was so common amongst the traveling miners, she was an oddity.
“Just because I’m not an elf, it’ll take me an arm and leg to make this bloody thing move, and I’m sure the wand they gave me is defective” Soledad was by now hitting the poor canvas with her wand, muttering “kalavaro” under her breath, the spell that was meant to make the brush strokes move.
“Well, you aren’t going to make anything move by sulking at it, you have to be at peace with yourself and your soul to make your painting move, Soledad.” Zaera shook her head and neatly placed the attacking brush to the side. “Take a bloody break and start again tomorrow, plus you are probably part elf so stop whining!”
Soledad made a face and mocked what Zaera had said.
“We better wrap up soon if we need to go to Qu’el before the Blue Wind.” Zaera added, ignoring Soledad’s bad mood and starting packing up her paintbrushes. Sun was about 2 hours away from setting and the chill was already setting in. If you looked towards the Mountain, you could already see the blue glare on the horizon. For a split few seconds during dusk, if you waited just enough, the Bleeding Hour and the Blue Wind merged, forming the most spectacular purple glow.
That was why Union Spot saw a mass of artists, nature enthusiasts and photographers gather from all over the world. Sometimes, although very rarely, humans from the Mirror Earth as well.
Blue Wind swept through this part of the Earth past sunset during Winter months, a wind so harsh, nobody could survive in it, except for magical beings of the forest and Mages. Nothing happened past sunset, shops closed and windows were bolted down.
For the last year, Zaera, Haron and Soledad had been on a secret mission to hunt down the cottage that haunted Soledad’s recurring dreams. Haron’s girlfriend worked in the Ancient Records Center, the organisation that kept the record of all the old abandoned buildings and shacks, and she had been a great help in narrowing down those that resembled the one from the dream. If Soledad’s dream was, in fact, a memory, they were keen on finding more about it.
Today, they were venturing further inside the Qu’el forest, borders of which were protected by the Elves.
“Haron was supposed to be here by now wasn’t he?” Soledad took the mobile phone out to check if there was any news from Haron, “Hate that he makes us use these human-hypnotising devices” She said.
Soledad was a runaway Syth, one of the traveling miners who had six fingers and short heights. Zaera was an Elf, Haron was their Human friend who worked as an “IT” specialist in the Humanities branch of Druidhkay.
While most of the human civilisation settled in the Mirror World after the Wars of the Monoliths, this part of the Earth still saw a few remaining human settlements. Haron belonged to one of them.
“He’ll come around, he is human after all, they are bound to get late, remember?” Zaera giggled. That one made Soledad’s bad mood subside a little as she smirked.
“Isn’t Forb joining us today?” Zaera asked.
“I’m sure he isn’t, he has been too busy with his kind, he is apparently learning to hunt now, although they are keeping a lot from him still but he is confident he’ll find a way around – he has already found a lot of his magic and has been showing off, little shit.”
Forb was a Plinthor, a wise being of the forest, Plinthors lived amongst Elves and were protectors of forests. They were giant cats, however it was highly offensive for them to be called ‘cats’, they were Elder beings who could speak and had high magic in them.
Forb had grown up with Soledad, both had been found by the Syth tribe and raised as orphans. Forb always had an option to go find his kind, but he had hesitated, until one day Forb and Soledad had to escape their tribe in the middle of the night to find a new life.
Soledad gave her painting a last shot at magic, and managed to get a single strand of the sun move, it flickered for a second and then went deader than ever. She sighed and started packing up.
As she was shoving her palette inside her bag, the aura of the air around her changed to a calming green glow, and that fluttering in the pit of her stomach arose. That feeling of unease yet calm always took over her when she smelled a specific perfume – perfume worn by Haron. She sighed, wondering when will she ever get used to it?
“Hello, ladies!” Haron appeared from behind the bush they were leaning against, a big smile on his face. He was wearing his usual plaid shirt and cargo trousers with a hundred pockets filled with god knew what assortment of gadgets.
About 200 yards down the tiny forest mound, there was further a wild trail where earth was swallowed by weeds and thorns. Soledad already had two cuts across her ankle – a bad day to not have worn her long hiking boots. “How far!!” Came the yell of a frustrated Elf. “At this pace we’ll all end up bleeding through our feet and legs and frozen in the blue wind.” Zaera whined.
“You elves are too much used to your cushioned lives” Replied Haron, using his reaper hard to cut the way for the girls. He was the only one dressed and equipped for this journey. That didn’t say much as he was the one who found out about it in the first place and didn’t inform others about the dress code.
“This cottage, according to Maya’s estimate, is about a century old – in fact, she doesn’t even know if it exists anymore, she found the files in the Rec center but the last picture made of it was 80 years ago – and from this path, doesn’t look like anyone’s been to this shack in 8 decades.” Informed Haron.
“What/Who was it being used for/by, back in the day, was there any information on that?” Asked Soledad, now trying to shield her face and arms from a giant thorny vine hanging above her head from a decaying mutant tree – It almost scratched her through the jacket’s cuff and she cursed. This forest was at war against anybody that wanted to cross.
“Probably one of the mining tribes, as those folk had lone cottages by the mountain end of the forests.”
What had started as a friendly and gorgeously maintained Elven Forest had now long turned into something that looked like accursed land from a nightmare. Soledad thought the light was growing dimmer and there was an uncertain chill in the air, but it could just be because the tops of the trees were so jumbled together, they were completely blocking out the light. The weed and bushes were now growing thicker and more hostile.
“Have you noticed, there are no birds in this area?” Shuddered Zaera. “Are you sure we aren’t crossing into forbidden borders? I can check us in the host zones of elven territories, but not the forbidden ones, remember?”
“I don’t know, Maya was pretty certain this was still within the known and well-treaded territories of the elven forest” Haron didn’t sound so sure.
The view in front of them was completely blocked by more mutant trees and bushes growing around them. However, they could just about see the signs of an old path below the overgrown weed, which they were trying to follow. It was meant to lead them to what was once a supposed Sythsian clearing. Here, the miners set their caravans when they traveled to that side of the Earth. That’s where the cottage was supposed to be, a tradesman’s den to equip Syths with what they needed to replenish and sustain.
However, due to the rumoured Rot, this part of the mountains hadn’t been minded in over a century. Legend says that a mountain’s soul was Rot if more than required stone was mined. The greed of the living was punished by the mountain cursing the stones for all to touch.
Suddenly, beyond a particularly massive clump of weedy bush, they started seeing a hint of green light filtering in, and just beyond that, there was a small clearing. Roots of the tree encircling had made a maze around what seemed to be a shack with one side of its roof broken down by a particularly invasive branch. The aura of the shack was ivory, while the surrounding forest was black and had a pungent smell of something gone wrong.
There was no willow tree growing around it. Soledad instantly knew this was yet another dead end for her: for them. However, she kept the disappointing news to herself. This was their fourth search mission. While her friends Zaera and Haron were more than keen on helping her find her lost past and the reason she had to run away from her tribe, she had started sensing that they may be starting to feel that this might be a lost cause.
The cottage had two windows. One broken and fallen to the ground, with grass growing over it, the other one, oddly, still intact with glass and all. The door was completely jammed by overgrown bushes. Zaera peeped inside through the intact window. “Other than that rogue branch growing through that side of the ceiling, the whole place is clear of the invasive forest inside, I can even see a bit of furniture” She told the other two, who were busy battling with the jammed door.
“What do you see?” Asked Haron, as he tried to cut loose a rogue vine growing on the door’s handle.
“Chairs —-“ Zaera tried to squint her eyes “It’s very dark, though, hold on” With a very small jerk, she managed to break open the window, with no bars, it could just fit her through. “Aha, here is some elven genius right here, folks” She smirked, climbing in. Haron and Soledad followed.
Turning on the torches of the mobile phones, they looked around. The cottage had only two rooms, and what looked like a lavatory, where the ceiling had caved in. It almost looked mystical: mold and algae growing all around, creating a black and green hue through which the filtered light painted a two coloured image on the wall across. The smell inside the cottage was calmer, faintly resembling that of growing grass.
The main room had a few broken chairs, a stand of drawers and what looked like a bricked fireplace now growing a whole lot of very odd looking flowers. They were two toned: black and purple, and growing inward. Soledad had never seen anything like that before. Tired, his hands on his back, Haron took a deep breath and looked at Soledad. “This isn’t it? Is it?” He knew. She shook her head.
“Can’t say it wasn’t a little bit of an adventure though!” He said, “Now that we have one our workout, let’s eat, before the wind settles, and then we can portal out, we still have about half an hour.”
They tried to clear pieces of broken glass, leaves and branches off the wooden floor and sat down in a circle. Soledad hunted out hummus sandwiches from the backpack. She couldn’t help but feel tremendous sadness growing inside her heart. For the longest time, she had wanted to set on the journey to find the place she saw in those dreams. She wanted to find her parents, or something about her past and where she came from that’ll give her some answers to why she needed to be on the run.
Now that she was on the journey, every dead end took such a toll on her. The court summoning was still fresh in her mind and it was weighing on her as well. In two days, she had to deliver another message. With Mages, you never got a break in the job, and right about now the thought made her feel exceptionally tired.
Worse than all of this was that her best friend and childhood companion, Forb, was off with his kind, the elven forest tribe of Plinthors had taken him in and were showing him their ways – HIS ways. He had been gone for months, with only a handful of visits. She couldn’t feel or talk to him telepathically anymore either. Reason he gave was that telepathy doesn’t work in the Plinthor part of the forests.
As children, they had dreamed of setting on this journey together, finding where they came from, looking for answers – only now he seemed to be finding his answers all by himself while she was nowhere near finding hers, all the while losing him little by little as well.
She had been too angry to admit she missed him. But now she couldn’t think of anything other than missing him.
“You ok, Sol?” Zaera looked worried, she took out the little golden bar and handed it to Soledad.
Damn these Elven senses. Zaera could always sense if Soledad felt sad.. Or excited, or angry… sometimes even before Soledad realised it herself. It had mainly to do with Zaera being an Elf, the kind that was more sensitive and perceiving than any other. Soledad took the bar from her and ate it when it turned pastel blue, feeling a slight sense of calm take over.
“Oh yea .. Just disappointed to have dragged you both to another dead end, this time a rather resisting one.”
“Well you didn’t expect to have walked into a nice forest the first day you started hunting your past, landed at the exact cottage of your dreams; met your mum and dad, been accepted with open arms and had a happily ever after?” Haron joked. He always joked, it was endearing and annoying at the same time. Although, as soon as he said it, he sensed he may have said a bit too much too soon.
“Come on, Sol, we’re on it, best lot in town, really. You wouldn’t find likes of Maya easily, nobody has access to old records, AND is happy to dig into them.” He quickly added.
Maya Maya Maya… Soledad thought.
“So long as you guys don’t feel obliged…” she muttered, munching on the last bits of her hummus and cucumber brown bread sandwich, bought from the elven canteen at the Academy. Only the “healthy and meat free” was the way of the Elves. Many Humans and Syths didn’t agree.
“Well, if I wasn’t here, I’d be back home with my folk at this moment being told by my mother how at this age Sila had already created her first complete moving art and exhibited it at the Druid Hall.” Zaera added.
“Talking about your Elven ways” Said Haron, shivering. “I think it’s time to portal ourselves out of here, being a new place you might need a minute to find the Source”
Elves could open portals into the places they knew well, the places they could picture well and have been to several times on foot. However, in order to open a portal, they needed to find the Source. Source was everywhere, some patches of earth that emitted more power. It could be a single flower, a patch of mud, or sometimes even an old bone buried deep inside the earth.
Soledad was not an elf, but she could open portals, a revelation she had when she was hired by the Mages. Reason why her friends reckoned she might be part elf, also explaining her unusual height for a Syth.
“Oh, I felt the source by the fireplace, those flowers, one of the strongest sources I’ve ever felt to be honest.. “ For a moment all of them were a bit transfixed at the cross wired vines growing purple and black flowers.
“What are those, anyway?” Asked Soledad, packing up her backpack. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them”
“Me neither” replied Haron, clearing crumbs off his oversized cargo pants.
“Yea me neither, and that’s saying a lot” Replied Zaera. A frown formed over the forehead. “I’ve heard of black and purple flowers growing over the land that knew blood and secrets… Although it is a lore, and nobody has ever proven to actually have seen them”
“Probably a common weed, though.” Said Haron, taking a picture of the flowers from his phone and tucking it away in his pocket. “I’ll run a search when I get home”
With a twist of both wrists, Zaera opened a bright pink portal above the fireplace that grew odd flowers, and soon they landed inside one of the common rooms at Druidhkay Academy. The warmth of the fireplace, the rainbow aura, pleasant smell of vanilla and strumming of guitar from the corner of the room welcomed them. Portaling back to Druidhkay always felt like returning home.
Soledad woke in the middle of the night, sweating. She had been dreaming again. In the light of the nightlight behind her bed, she stared at the dark silhouettes of her room, and saw the big face of a cat staring at her. Instead of being startled, she felt a sudden sense of calm cloak her, it was Forb.
“You fucker! What the fuck are you doing in the middle of the night sneaking in??!” She screamed at him “How did you even get in?!”
Forb pawed her and purred, a mean smile across his face. “It’s so good to see you too, Chimp”. Nobody other than her old tribe and Forb knew of her childhood nickname: Chimp.
“It’s bloody annoying to see you is what it is” Replied Soledad, sitting up and wiping sweat from her brows. She was still too angry to show her joy.
“Another dream?” Forb looked worried. He always worried about her dreams.
Soledad ignored. “Now tell me how the hell did you get in here at this time of the night?”
“You have me on the emergency list, idiot.” He replied curling towards the end of the lap and licking a paw.
Soledad indeed had him as her emergency contact, which meant he could enter the premises whenever he wanted.
She didn’t want to show, but she had missed Forb so much, seeing him again she felt a wave of relief sweep over her. She realised how tense she actually had been since the Court of Mages. She didn’t even notice she was smiling.
“I still hate you.” she concluded.
“I can live with that.” He replied. “Are you not going to ask me where I’ve been?”
“I’ll still tell you.”
“I was in the Jade training, Forbs are forbidden to leave quarters or communicate with the outside world whilst in training, they’ve let me out now, for 1 day, and then I’m back”
Soledad didn’t react.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, I know you are DYING to know about the training”
‘Maybe..” Replied Soledad, “Oh right, ok, tell me all about it!” She caved.
“I am not allowed to magic inside these walls, otherwise I’d show you some neat tricks, I can apparate short distances now, and my invisibility training is going well, I can be translucent!”
“O my god! We need to get out of the academy and check that some day.” Soledad couldn’t keep up the charade any more, she was too happy and too excited.
“Yes, once this training completes I’ll have a week off and we’ll maybe head out into the Nymph woods.. and maybe the town…” his tail was swooshing behind him.
“What’s up, Forbstorm?” Soledad had noticed.
“There is something..” Forb licked his nose, hesitating.
“Out with it then!”
“In our cave expeditions, we are meant to meditate for hours at a time by the ponds… It gives Plinthors “Clarity” and a chance to connect with their resonating magic… I am getting better at it” he paused.
“And that’s a bad thing?” Soledad asked
Forbs smiled. “No, actually it’s bloody fantastic!” he paused again, looking around. “However, the other day I caught a glimpse of.. well you. I figured it was you at that moment, sometimes you catch a glimpse of people close to you.”
“Awwww..” Soledad laughed. “Although, seriously, invasion of privacy much?
“Well I am your protector!!” He roared
“Like hell you are!”
“Anyway, shut up and listen. I caught a glimpse of you again… You were in a cottage somewhere by the northern mountains, with your lot… this was earlier today. Were you at such a place?”
“Yea!” Surprised, Soledad almost yelled “that’s creepy, dude! We were only there today!”
“I know.. well that confirms the present part.. anyway, when you have a vision, it is
usually something that happens in the present, and the following vision is usually past or.. future.” He stopped
“You’re saying you saw my future?” Soledad felt that dreadful feeling that had cloaked her for days returning.
“I don’t know.. I mean, it certainly wasn’t past.”
“Well then what was it? Tell me!”
“You were running, I couldn’t comprehend the location, but you had something or someone on your trail.” He looked worried
“Any chance this vision can be false?” Soledad shuffled, the unease, it was getting worse.
“No.. well usually not, but I’m new to this, this might not be accurate.” He sounded like he was making that part up, Soledad could tell.
“And it wasn’t the time we ran from the tribe?” She asked
“No, definitely not that time.” He replied. Soledad was silent so he continued. ‘I just want you to be careful, ok? Continue your search, but remember, when you go hunting for your past, sometimes you find a lot more than you asked for…”
There was clearly something Forb knew about his past that he wasn’t just yet ready to share with her. This gave Soledad an unease she had never known. Forb and Soledad never had secrets before.
However, she herself hadn’t told him about the Elder Mage incident, her summoning to the Court of Mages in the Hall of Forbearance, and the warning she had received there.