Moonlight streamed through the window of the modest room, illuminating the prone figure with its whitish-blue light. A woman crept into the room, carrying a heap of clothes in her arms. She went and perched on the edge of the bed, setting the bundle on her lap. With her right hand she reached out and shook the calf of the sleeping girl.
“Aila,” the woman murmured.
“Wah?” Aila grunted.
“Rise now,” the woman insisted, shaking the girl’s leg harder.
“What time is it?” Aila mumbled, rubbing her eyes with her fists.
“Early — yes, I know, don’t give me that look — but you must get up.”
“Why?” Aila pushed herself into a sitting position, and a bundle of clothes were thrust into her lap. Her mother’s face was tense. She was dressed for cold weather and her gardening boots peaked out from under her thick cloak.
“The realms are awake.” Her mother whispered as she made her way to the door. A quick “meet me on the back porch” preceded the sight of her cloak sweeping out of the room. She could be heard descending the stairs at a lightening pace.
Aila turned her attention to the bundle which consisted of wool pants and a thick linen shirt wrapped in a double-layered black cloth cloak like her mother’s. Aila dressed, slid on a pair of boots, and made her way outside with a tight know tightening in the pit of her stomach.
The cold air stung her cheeks and nose when the door swung open and revealed her mother and grandmother standing stoically side-by-side, the steam rising from their breath the only movement in the night. The moon was full and its light illuminated the landscape making the trees that bordered the house cast long, eerie shadows.
“Aila Martha Carrier,” her grandmother broke the silence with her powerful, yet soft voice. “It has been two years to the day that you were inducted into training, and you have excelled at a pace rarely seen.”
Her grandmother threw a concerned look to her daughter, who took a deep, wavering breath before speaking. When she spoke, it sounded like she was fighting the words.
“Given your proficiency in completing the tasks assigned, we have deemed it time for you to start a new chapter: learning to harness the magic inside and around you and bend it to your will.
Your task is to venture into the forest until you lose yourself and your way. At that point, you will search out the materials needed to craft your own wand. To do this, you will need to listen for the things your ears cannot hear and look for things your eyes cannot see. the material you need will connect to you on an unseen and unheard levels.”
The two women before her mother turned and shared a long look. Aila’s grandmother took over once more.
“The task seems simple, but do not let your guard down, for magic is in the air tonight and when the realms are awake… strange things tend to happen.”
Aila nodded along, drinking in the information, despite sleep fighting to reclaim her. This information would be important late — no doubt.
“One last thing…” her mother trailed off, staring at her daughter’s boots, “you may not return until you achieve your goal… however long that may be.” Her eyes met her daughter’s and there were tears in their green depths.
“What…?” Aila looked frantically between the two of them. “What if I can't find them?”
“We hope that you do…” The whispered reply rung in the young girl’s ears.
Aila stared into the woods to her left, chills going down her spine as the shadows thrown by the trees seemed to lengthen and reach for her.
“Mom…?” Aila turned back to see her mother reaching for the backdoor handle. Her pale hand gripped the metal, knuckles turning white.
“Good luck, my sweet child.”
Her turned and entered the house without another word. Her grandmother strode past, trailing a hand over the girl’s cheek, and followed her daughter. Aila went back to staring at the trees. Stalling. She stiffly descended the stairs and as her foot made contact with the cold, hard ground, the knot in her stomach tightened even more.
Towards the forest she trudged, reliving the hundreds of times she played in these woods as a child. Except this time, she wasn’t playing hide-and-seek with Kaves, where the trees were her allies and helped to hide her from the four-legged seeker. This time, she wasn’t setting up fairy houses in the bushes and returning to check on them every few hours. This time, the trees did not feel friendly at all. This time, the trees would be guards shutting her in, closing any glimpse of the outside world.
How do you get lost when you know where you are going?
Aila wandered aimlessly through the forest, stopping here and there to regard a certain wand-like stick or particularly interesting rock. After some time, she came to the stream where she would fetch water or dream of sailing a -very tiny- boat to see how far it went. She crossed the stream with one large step.
This area of the woods was less known to her; her mother preferred she stay on the other side of the stream most of the time. Aila turned and tramped off in no particular. She pulled her cloak tighter around her as the fleeting strips of moonlight making it through the thickening treetops grew dimmer until they no longer lit the dark forest.
After a time, Aila stopped. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as the in in front of her seem to hum. Five feet or so ahead of her, the air seemed to form an invisible barrier between the forest she was in and the forest she was going to. The barrier seemed to call to her and her body ached to respond. Transfixed, and without looking away, she crouched down and felt the ground with both hands for a stick or a stone to lob through the tight air.
“Ah!” Aila hissed as she pricked the index finger of her right hand on a broken point of a twig, so she grabbed it and the pebble beside it. Her blood stained the stick as she tossed it through the boundary.
Amazingly, the stick did not fall to the ground after it passed through the barrier. Instead, it just hung immobile in the air about waist high off the ground. Small pinpricks of blue light appeared and coated the floating stick, causing it to twist and turn in the air.
"What are you looking for?" she asked, furrowing her brow as she concentrated on the stick. The lights, suddenly losing interest, abandoned the stick as it unceremoniously dropped to the hard ground. Testing the air again, Aila tossed the small pebble through the barrier and watched intently as it skipped benignly, apparently not worth the attention of the lights. Shrugging, she straightened up and stepped through the barrier feeling the air become so tense that she could barely breathe and appeared, unharmed, on the other side.
Aila gasped, eyes wide: in that moment her body felt more alive than it ever had. It felt powerful… magic. Suddenly, more blue lights appeared from nowhere, from everywhere, covering her cloak, arms, hair, and hands. In somewhat of a euphoric daze Aila watched her hands raise from her sides, palms upwards. The light entities swarmed towards the finger of her right hand that was still bleeding, and Aila watched as a single light descended into the plump red droplet as it escaped the puncture.
A high pitch note sounded off in the distance, slicing through the night. The blue lights responded and began to pull her into the depths of the forest. Time had no foothold in that part of the forest. The treetops blocked both moonlight and sunlight, but Aila didn't need light to see where she was going; the lights led her, softly controlling her movements. Because of this she did not falter, did not trip over root or stone, did not brush against bush or tree. She glided through the blackness like she was born from it.
A light rising in the distance, grew brighter. As she got nearer, Aila’s eyes adjusted to the radiant light. Her mouth dropped open and could be heard scraping against the dirt and leaves. A monster of a tree stood before her, utterly hollowed out, and instead of a dirt floor, luminous white water filled its center. In the middle of this shimmering pool rose a pedestal, a polished cylinder balanced on its top, was it wood?
Radiating bliss, Aila waded into the glowing waters without a moment of hesitation, a huge smile involuntarily spread across her face. As she approached the pedestal, she noticed that there is s a clear quartz-like crystal embedded in the wooden cylinder with its chiseled point protruding from the core. The crystal was clearer than any she had ever seen, clearer than the glass jars she had cleaned tens of times at home.
Lost in wonder, Aila wasn’t aware that her right hand had lifted above the crystal and descended down. The point of the crystal was pushed into the open wound on her index finger, causing pain to flash up her hand and arm. Blood oozed out of the wound onto the crystal, which soaked it up, consumed it. Aila watched in confused wonder as the clear mineral deepened to a passionate red color.
A sound of cracking split the air and the wood block shook and teetered on the pedestal. The front of the block wrenched open and then the sides. Aila waded back a few steps and covered her face with her hands to avoid the wood chips that were shooting through the air. When Aila lowered her hands, she looked for the block. It was gone. In its place was an intricately carved wooden wand balancing on one end, with a blood red crystal adorning the top. Strange runes were carved into its length.
For the first time since passing through the barrier, Aila hesitated. Eventually, she grasped the wand in her right hand and lifted it away from the pedestal. Warmth moved from her fist to her heart and she was aware of the well of magic that resided deep inside her. She climbed out of the luminescent waters and back into the dark forest, which seemed all the more darker without the glow.
The blue lights were gone. Her guides were gone.
She was lost.