Outside, it’s quiet. The silence has been here for months now, and it has settled like fog, everlasting and indestructible. We all remember we were joyous once, but those memories have passed. This desolation was not caused by any great, tyrannical kingdom. I don’t think the most wicked of tyrants could have done what has been inflicted upon us. Its a disease. It doesn't have minor symptoms like coughing or headaches; if one contracts it, they bleed until death. I know this pain because my sister and I both went through it, but we didn’t die. I don’t remember, though. Our parents knocked us out within a few minutes of the symptoms arising, they say. Us two are the only two known to have survived. With this immunity also comes with the obligation of responsibility to our people, to find a cure that would bring our civilization back to thriving as it did before.
I wake up with the autumn sun shining into my face. I look outside and it’s as if all of nature is mocking me. The sun illuminates a scene in our borough which was once the pride of our kingdom. Where there was once a stream, there now lie trenches, and the bones of its fish. Where there were once leaves of all colors, there now stand the skeletons of lifeless bark. My sister and I have been contemplating restoring all of this for a month now, and yesterday, we decided on a plan. We would venture out beyond our kingdom and go in search for a doctor that was said to be able to cure any disease, in the magical cities of the North. We have been contacting this doctor, and he says that he cannot venture out into the wilderness between us and where he lives. He’s an elderly man. There are bandits in the mountains and outlaws in the forest, and these are between us and the North. The only way to go safely would be crossing the rivers surrounding the area between us and the North, but that would take an extra month. We can’t spare more time. By then, there would be nobody alive left to save.
“Amber, wake up!” I yell.
“Okay, okay, I’m coming... shut up already,” she says slothily. “What’s the big deal, anyways?”
“You must remember that we’re leaving today, right?” I reply.
“Are you sure we should?” She asks.
“Yes. I mean, no, but we can’t keep laying it off, Amber.”
“Okay then. We set off today, and we’ll come back as heroes.”
We both get our stuff ready in our bags. I have tomato and peanut butter sandwiches, canteens, and extra pairs of clothes for both of us. I also bring a map and some coins. The coins were left in the bank when our parents died. We didn’t need proof to procure it during the winter because Mama was friends with one of the bankers and the banker had seen us before. I walk downstairs slowly, trying to keep all the images of the house in my head in case it takes too long to get backed. Amber bumps into me, though, so I speed up. We eat a breakfast of tomato and peanut butter sandwiches all without talking. We’re both finding it hard to believe that we’re actually doing this, because we have never even reached the kingdom borders before. There are maps in our house, so it won’t be hard to get to the borders, but from there, all we have for guidance are our wits, the sun, and a few old stories concerning far-off lands.
We walk for about half an hour until we reach the canals, where canoes are docked. There used to always be a few sailors here, but now they’re all gone. In fact, there’s nobody on the roads, whereas a few months back, I could hear voices emerging from every street corner. We row until we eventually reach the city borders. I realize that I have never seen the outsides before. I have seen the trees before; they could be seen from half a mile away, but I have never seen the twisting paths leading everywhere and the similarly twisted ferns covering those paths. It’s a forest there, with trees that are fairly spread out but plentiful, but there aren’t any animals to be seen.
At about midday, I’m startled by Amber’s voice, “Look! There’s an inn with stables there! Maybe we can finally get some rest.”
Apparently, I’ve just been studying the map. We get a room, and prepare to stay for the night. We go down to the lobby to see if there are any refreshment. The landlord looks at us for a long time. There come the sound of the bells, and then, “Everyone, hide! They’re coming!” It must have been those outlaws Mama and Papa had always talked about. I don’t know how it's possible that my mind is thinking of something like the following in such a situation, but I wonder why she yelled it as if it were a common occurrence. It’s oddly comforting. Others barricade the entrance, and we look for a way out. Boom.
“Hold the door! Nail the windows next to it!”
We run towards the other windows, but there are people riding towards them as well. Boom. I run up, hoping Amber will follow me. Boom. I crawl through the upper windows and back around the inn, my heart racing with the same sound as that of the outlaws breaking down the door. Boom, crash! That’s the door coming down. I see them filing into the entrance, and then hear the sounds of crashing and them rampaging through the main lobby. Others surround the inn, and my plan of escaping from behind won’t work.
“Amber, are you okay? Amber?”
I look around me. She isn’t there. Of course I would forget something like this! I thought I was the one with the analytical mind. And now, Amber is probably in some serious trouble. Looking around and below me, they’ve gone around the back. This would’ve been good news before, but now it’s an opening to go back into the inn. There isn’t one sound inside, so they must have gone downstairs. I go to the back and find sticks under the trees. I wedge them into the a crevice of the wooden wall, and take a plank out. Using my hands to take the rest is easy enough. Pa taught me that. Crawling inside, there’s a cellar with a twisting staircase in the corner leading downwards.
“Amber? Are you here, Amber?” I ask into the darkness. I don’t expect any voice, as I don’t hear or see anybody.
“Jade, is that you?” It was her!
“Yes, it's!” I reply.
I hear another voice saying, “Don’t trust what you can’t see! He’s a trap, I just know it.”
Above me, I hear voices. There’s the sound of something breaking, and then the voices get louder.
“Just help me, please! There are people coming,” I half-whisper.
To the right, a bookcase turns slightly and a head pops out. “Come in, fast.”
I sprint in just before there are footsteps coming down the stairs. The door closes, and everybody holds their breath.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding yourself all these years, hm?” A muffled oily voice says. “Search every container, every corner, and every wall! Your lives depend on it.”
Suddenly, the bookshelf in front of us turns again, and a host of outlaws eye us down.
“The Leader of the Aviate will be expecting you. I’m surprised you haven’t died yet, but that’ll be taken care of soon enough,” The same, oily voice rasps. “As for the rest, tie them up and guard them. Give them some food and water every few… days.”
He roughly takes the landlord under his wing, and flies away. The rest of them tie our hands in pairs and keep watch, and Amber and I are tied together. She clears her throat.
“What, do you want to get killed?” I whisper to Amber.
“What, I can’t clear my throat?” She questions quietly.
“No, of course not!” I reply.
One of the Aviate sitting nearby sneers in the same oily voice, “If I had my way, you’d wish you’d be dead long before now. Although, if you keep talking, you might wish you were dead. We only have orders to bring you alive, not unbruised.”
“Us? Weren’t you just coming for the landlord? We don’t have anything!” I ask, startled that we might end up like the landlord, and vanish away, probably to some cruel fate.
“Oh, your lies don’t trick anybody. Nobody who’s with her is pure. And stop talking; you’ll need your rest and your energy soon enough,” the Aviate replies.
There’s a swoosh behind the Aviate that has talked to us, and the one who took the landlord from us reappears. He gives each of our guards a glowing, curved knife, and leaves in the same way he came in. Outside, night falls. I can tell because the single ray of light coming from the stairwell is now gone. Clink, clink. The knife falls from our sleeping guard’s hand. I motion to Amber to help me get it, planning on cutting the ropes. We slowly crawl towards the knife. I pick it up, and try to sever the middle of the knot. I know if I get caught, it’ll most likely be the death of Amber and me. I can’t make a sound. I cut, and the ropes fall. Suddenly, the guard awakens from the yell of their leader coming back, telling them to walk us South, continuing their campaign. Their leader, however, stays back and then seizes both of us with a terrifying strength, one of us under each of his wings. He flies into the forest, casting a shadow upon the trees bigger than what seems to be possible.
I scream to him, “What do you want from us?” It’s only been a few seconds since he’s set off.
He rasps, “You know what I want. You were with her. I want my power and rightful place back. Don’t even prete-”
He’s cut off by something, but I don’t sense what. In a moment, he’s back on the ground flat, completely hiding us. He crouches low, and extends his head, as if listening. He extends his talons, breathing heavily. After a moment of silence, a short but deafening boom follows a circular beam of light that scorches our captor’s hand. He shrieks and turns back, then disappears in a flash of green light like before. We both look towards the origin of the light beam, being able to track it because it’s still fading. At the origin, on the treetop, I see something familiar, but can’t remember just what.
“Hey, Amber, is it just me or did you see a face up there?” I ask her.
“It’s just you,” She says, shortly. “You’re clearly crazy. Get some rest, and I’ll keep watch. I don’t wanna go back in that inn. There’s nothing good that could come from going there.”
“Okay. Wake me up if anything bad happens.”
So for that night, I sleep on the blankets that I packed just a few days before. Luckily, they didn’t search it yesterday. Within this time, more has happened than I thought would. I hoped it would just be a peaceful journey to restore prosperity, but it will be much harder. In the morning, I wake up seeing Amber getting up. The next step in the journey would now come: The Southern Mountains. Passing through, we would be safe from bandits. We take the morning to get out of the forest. There’s a plain on this side with a few hills and bushes. The silhouettes of mountains stand distant, moving back with each step we take and filling my field of view so far away. I should’ve stolen a horse. It takes until night until we get to the base of a mountain, and the scene doesn’t change before then. We eat supper, and then start going up.
The path starts out as easy enough, but then it becomes steeper and colder. Snow begins to appear, the wind blows faster, and small pebbles fall. There’s a rumble above us. I think it’s thunder, so I tell Amber to go faster with me. Hopefully, we won’t have to stay under an overhang for the night. More snow drifts from above. Lightning hits. The ground shakes, and we go faster. A boulder falls behind us, and piles of snow start falling. It blocks the path in front us and behind us, and jumping off would mean certain capture. Amber grabs me and jumps under the overhang, barely escaping the block of ice that slides down. We back towards the wall as snow leaks through in front of us.
“Push!” Amber yells, but it doesn’t move.
The rate of the leak accelerates. After just a few seconds, I start to get claustrophobic. I breathe, and it’s as white as the snow. I can barely breathe at all. Then behind me, I hear the same boom as before, when the Aviate was scared away. I look, and jump back, seeing the same face as before.
“How-wh-who are you?” I stammer.
“I’m your mother. Now let’s fly away before you both suffocate, shall we?” She answers.
When I wake up, I’m in a soft bed in a room with a stone, arched doorway. The room is small, but it feels comfortable, with a fireplace as well. There’s a woman with feathered wings looking over me.
“Jade,” it says.
“How-wh-who are you?” I stammer.
“I’m your mother, Jade,” she answers.
“But she died!” I exclaim. “You can’t be my mother.”
“No, I didn’t die. I escaped. The Aviate follow me, so I ran away so you wouldn’t get hurt,” she explains. “I didn’t pay Grandpa’s debt, and they hold me responsible.”
“Oh. Where are we then?” I ask.
“We’re in the North. They wouldn’t dare come here,” Mother answers.
“Wait, that means the doctor is here! You can take me there, and we can save home!”
“No, we can’t save it. There’s no cure, and there’s no doctor. I’m the one who’s been contacting you. I was the landlord to keep track of you, but the Aviate found me,” she explains. “I couldn’t just fly you here when you were so far away.”
“Is Father alive too, then?” I hopingly ask.
“No, he’s not from the North. He really did die.”
“What about my friends? What about your friend, the banker?” I question. “We have to help them!”
“I wish there was something we could do, Jade,” she says sorrowfully. “The Aviate plan to control the area. They’ll capture you before you can do anything. Stay, please.”
I don’t say anything. I look out through the window to clear my mind. Outside, it's quiet.