“Before, when I lived in Galadale with my parents, nestled away in our corner of the continent of Lu, I never realized how vast the world was. Now, each day of our travels brings us to a new location. Our supplies have diminished over these few months so Naji and I started learning how to hunt. We’ve also started learning which plants are edible and which are poisonous. On one occasion, Naji ate a plant and was violently ill for a few days,” Petra recalled whilst writing notes in her leather bound diary.
They were slowly finding out about the workings of nature all around them, and adapting to their surroundings. Naji had become good at setting traps and catching small animals like rabbits, squirrels and mice. At first, Petra had tried eating the animals, but she found it more and more difficult to eat flesh, so she survived mainly on vegetables. Between the two of them, they’d managed to live, however hard it was on them.
They’d met few people on the way, sometimes pages running between towns, at other times bands of merchants selling their wares, or roaming travelers. They generally avoided meeting others, and if they really had to, just kept their hoods on and avoided eye contact. There was one occasion when they had met a lone traveler by the river. Petra had been washing some of her clothes and the man came to the river to quench his thirst. Thinking it was Naji, she’d turned towards him and looked straight into his eyes. The traveler didn’t show the slightest reaction and Petra had quickly turned back to her work. He brought his head down to the river and sipped.
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he looked over at her and asked, “What are you doing so far from any villages young miss?”
“Oh, my brother and I are travelling,” answered Petra.
“What would your destination be?” queried the stranger.
This was always a tough question as Petra didn’t know the names of the surrounding towns and villages, so she’d always mention ones that were closer to her hometown of Galadale.
“We’re traveling to Stonewall, sir.”
“Hmmm. Stonewall is quite a ways from here. There were rumors of some children who’d gone missing from a neighboring town…” Petra felt the perspiration dripping inside her cloak.
“I’m sorry sir; I’ve heard nothing of such disappearances. I certainly hope that the children are found.”
“Absolutely,” finished the man, wiping his mouth. He watched Petra as she walked away.
Since that day she’d been especially cautious about who they met, worried that the traveler had informed someone of their whereabouts, and she kept telling Naji to stay on the move.
“But we’ve just found a good, dry cave with no snakes or bears!” complained Naji.
“Just trust me,” Petra said quietly, “I’ve got a bad feeling…” So they packed up camp again and headed further south. Naji had a map of the surrounding territory that he’d taken from his father, but it only roughly pointed out surrounding towns and villages and was unclear as to directions. They continued south in the direction of a small village called Castlekirk. On their travels, they still had not come across a solution to their dilemma. They could barely talk to anyone they met and their main focus had turned to survival. Naji had been depressed and tearful in the beginning, but he’d quickly taken on the role of guide and food gatherer. Petra watched him become stronger and she realized that she was becoming stronger too.
At first she felt she couldn’t do anything. She wanted her mother and her father. She became aware of how much she had always relied on them. However, slowly but surely she was becoming capable. She’d found something within herself. In the depths of her despair, she’d found the hope to carry on. A hope that one day she could be reunited with her family. She hoped the same for Naji too.
They were making their way through a forest when Petra felt it. At first faint, a sound was coming from the ground. A pulse of beats that grew more powerful with each passing second. When she opened her mouth to warn Naji, the sound was already audible. Hoof beats, drumming on the sodden ground of the forest, clamoring and approaching.
“Run!” she screamed, “And hide too!” Naji knew what to do. He quickly scampered up a nearby tree, as nimble as one of the forest squirrels. Petra looked for earth, for something to cover herself with. She found a nearby burrow that belonged to an animal and squeezed her way into it. The thunder of horses grew closer until Petra knew that they’d arrived. The sounds of men’s voices rang through the still air kept by the silent trees.
Alistair climbed down from his steed. He was a tall man, muscular and bearded. Thick locks of hair brushed his shoulders as he dismounted. He touched his sword as he scanned the clearing that Petra and Naji had been in minutes before. His eyes were hidden behind the hood of his riding cloak. It almost seemed as if he was sniffing the air. His eyes gazed upwards and he followed the treetops with his vision.
Stopping at a dark patch where Naji’s form clung to one of the high branches, he said, “Come down, boy. I see you there.”
Hearing this, Naji started climbing to somehow make an escape that he knew was impossible. He grasped at branches that were too thin to hold his weight. From inside her burrow, Petra heard the sound of branches breaking, and something falling. She waited for the thud, but she didn’t hear it. She wondered why. Why was there no sound?
Naji also couldn’t believe his eyes. He hung, suspended in the air, a puppet held up by translucent strings. The cloaked man’s hand was extended out. He slowly brought his hand downn and Naji sank to the ground. He was prepared to run when his feet touched the ground, but as soon as he braced himself he felt something hard connect with his head, and he lost consciousness.
After that, he flashed in and out of waking. He was bound by his hands and feet. He pulled with what strength he had left, but the ropes that bound him were firm. Occasionally, he caught a glimpse of his captor. He couldn’t see him clearly, yet a green glow emanated from inside his hood. Then he blacked out again.
Petra had waited briefly, before running out to see what had happened to Naji. By the time she reached the clearing they were in, there were no traces of Naji except his knapsack, which lay discarded on the ground. She searched frantically for hours around the surrounding area, but the more she searched, the more lost she became. She came back to the same places over and over and she realized that she was walking in circles. Naji had the map with him, so she was well and truly clueless. She sank down on the earth, gripping the soil in her hands.
Tears streaming from her face, they fell and mixed with the dirt. Leaves, worms, wet earth; she squeezed it all tightly in her despair. She felt like sinking into the ground, becoming one with it and finding solace. Solace for her heart that was breaking, splintering, and being pulverized under the pain. Losing her mother, father and now Naji was all too much too bear.
Then she felt a strange sensation. It was as though the earth was supporting her, holding her in its cradling arms, as her mother used to, comforting her. She let out a scream so deep and intense into the earth, and the earth simply took it and dissolved it. She screamed again and again, until she was out of breath and out of anguish, and still the earth accepted all of it. When there were no tears or screams left, she gave way to sleep.
She awoke to the sound of a crackling fire. She pulled herself upright. Across from her sat a hooded man or woman, she was unable to tell. The figure removed the hood and a woman with long pink hair and bright brown eyes, the same as hers, stared back at her.
They just sat in silence for a while before Petra asked, “How long have I been asleep?”
“About a day”, the woman replied. “You were obviously exhausted and seem to be suffering from malnutrition.”
“He was taken.”
“By whom?” spluttered Petra, trying to stand.
“Save your strength. He is beyond your reach now.”
Petra dropped down and watched the flames of the fire. She wanted to cry again, but she held back the tears.
“What are we?” she asked with exasperation. “Why are we hated and despised so?” The woman drew a breath and seemed to contemplate before answering.
“We are Godai users, magic users. It’s something we’re born with. You’re a Chi user, as am I. Like you, when I was younger, I found that I could make plants grow, move dirt, feel the earth, all the things that you’ve probably felt. I am an orphan, so I had no idea about what was going on. I went around using my abilities as I liked. The villagers were all afraid of me and I was ostracized by them. Then one day, they came.”
“The Appeasers. They take people with Godai abilities like us away and cover it up with stories about it being a plague. Usually parents are dragged away too if the child is older, under the pretense of infection.” She threw a log on the fire. “You were brave to leave your town. If not, your parents would certainly have suffered the same fate as your friend.” A feeling of relief spread over Petra. All this time she’d blamed herself for being cursed with this ability, yet here was someone with the same ability and was able to live and survive.
“What can I do? All this time I’ve been hoping to cure myself and return to my family.”
The woman shot her a piercing look, “There is no cure for our abilities. In the same way that trees have branches, squirrels can climb those trees and the clouds bear rain, so we have Godai. It’s not something to be removed. You need to choose what you will do. Will you continue this wandering life as an outcast or find out more about yourself? About your powers? The answers to all your other questions will be waiting there.” The woman lay back down on her pack. “I will leave this area tomorrow. If you want to discover who you are, follow me. If you wish to follow a deluded idea that you can take away your abilities, then feel free to leave.
“Sorry,” Petra said, “I don’t even know your name. I’m Petra.”
In the morning Isabella put out the last embers of the fire. She looked around, but she didn’t see Petra. Slinging her pack over her shoulder, she started trudging off through the forest. After some time she looked around. Petra stood behind her, eyes down.
“Aaahh, I hope it won’t trouble you too much if I come with you.”
“Keep up with my pace girl. For our kind, we don’t have the luxury of straggling.” Petra smiled, removing her hood from her head. The sun shone on her and she felt that she wanted to rise up and meet it in the sky. Isabella glanced back, and Petra caught a brief glimpse of her smiling.
How many days had gone by? Naji had lost count. Each day poured into the next in a blur of images. Sometimes Naji saw people’s faces, eyeballing him in fear as if he was disease ridden. Others looked at him pitifully as if they too had lost something once. They travelled on and he was nearly fully conscious. He was slung over the back of a large, gray horse. His hands and feet were bound and he was tethered to the saddle.
Lifting his head, he could see that they’d arrived at a huge lake. It had gray waters and its depths were unfathomable. Naji doubted any fish could survive in such strange waters. The lakeside was speckled with rock spans that arched for great distances on the sides of the lake and even across some areas of water. He glimpsed a huge castle in the distance. Its spires threatened the heavens with their sharp turrets and its walls were an oxblood red. He couldn’t make out exactly how big it was. As they approached, the rider blindfolded him tightly and rubbed his hand over Naji’s head firmly. He blacked out again.
When he came to he was in a pitch black room, seated on a stone bench that joined the wall. His neck, arms and feet were bound in chains which were attached to the cold stone wall behind him. All he could manage were simple movements. He tried pulling at the chains and felt a sharp pain coming from his arms. Staring down at them, he now noticed crude tubes attached to them. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw that they weren’t merely attached to his arms but poked into his veins. He flinched in pain, powerless to do anything. The darkness cleared more and he could see that the tubes were leading to an object on a table carved of rock nearby. His eyes widened. He saw it was a glass of some kind and it was half full of red liquid. Terror built up in his chest and it dawned on him that the red liquid was his own blood. He squirmed and let out screams of agony and fear, but no one came, and he knew no one would.