Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Friday Flash #64: The Road Less Travelled

She stood only a few kilometers from the base of the mountain, its peak shrouded in an unnatural mist. It was a mountain she'd never had any interest in seeing from a distance, much less climbing, but now she had no choice. She looked around her, taking in the stunning views and the happily oblivious families playing on the beach. They had no idea of the power that lurked nearby; hopefully they never would.

She took a deep breath and left the beach, finding herself quickly in deep vegetation. She knew of people who could trek through deep forest without ever making a sound. Sadly, she was not one of them. And realistically she figured her presence would be known long before sound would have given her away. She rolled her eyes as another branch snapped and an angry bird cawed loudly.

Humans had so few natural predators, yet somehow still the thought of approaching one in its den triggered long dormant instincts; her legs felt like she was wearing lead shoes, and she could hear her own heartbeat. But she had no choice. It was her fault Callie had been taken. Taken. Not killed. Nobody believed her when she told them that, claiming stress and grief were manipulating her memories. But she knew what she had seen; the dragon had been too gentle, too determined. It hadn't killed her sister; it had kidnapped her.

She muttered under her breath as she ducked under a branch only to walk straight into a cob web. There was no trail; of course there was no trail -- most people had no idea what lived up there and those who did, actively avoided visiting. But somehow it wasn't horribly overgrown either -- as she walked, her feet seemed to find their own path.

All too quickly she reached the low mist. The air hung heavy and her clothes began to sag as they drank the moisture from the air. She paused to catch her breath and became aware of the utter silence surrounding her. The birds, monkeys, and various other woodland critters who had been narrating her hike, were now noticeably missing, as though they too knew better than to risk venturing into the mist.

Welcome Christina, she froze and her eyes widened at the words she felt rather than heard. We have been waiting for you.

She snorted and determinedly continued her hike. After all, realistically if they, whoever they were, wanted her dead, she would be. Only a few moments later, the mist cleared, her limp hair and damp clothing all that reminded her of the humidity that had been.

Christina didn’t know what she’d expected to find. If she’d put any consideration into it, it would have been an arid cavern of some sort – maybe something similar to a volcano. But that was not what she found.

She knew she was staring and her teeth clicked as she consciously closed her mouth. What she saw defied all understanding she possessed. If front of her floated a stunning castle, whose edges shimmered like a mirage. To either side was what looked like giant garages, unfathomably large, and lit by crystals. The whole place oozed wealth and grandeur, but somehow also had a welcoming homey feel.

“Stein!” Christina’s eyes focused on the door as her little sister came tearing out toward her.

“Callie!” She swooped her sister up in a bear hug, “Are you okay?” But she could tell by the grin on her face and the strength in her hug that her sister was fine. “What happened? Actually no, never mind, you can tell me when we get home.”

Callie unwrapped herself and grabbed Christina’s hand, pulling toward the castle. “We can’t go yet. You have to meet Jory! And school is so much more fun here than at home.”

Christina, she held her breath as the powerful feeling overtook her again, Callie will complete her studies here. At which point she may return to your home if she desires. You too have sufficient power to stay and learn – although you are old to be so untrained. Alternately, you may leave unharmed. But know that once you cross the mist, you will have no memory of this place. Choose wisely.

Callie tugged on her hand, imploring her to come, but Christina paused, her mind spinning. She thought of her parents, and the grief they would feel at the apparent loss of another daughter; she thought of the life she would lead if she never knew what had happened to Callie; and then she looked at her sister’s excited face and knew there was no choice. Hoping it wasn’t all an elaborate ruse, she gave one last look through the mist before allowing her little sister to pull her toward the castle and her destiny.


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