The Silver Tree was dying. It wasn’t the fire of that tragic day causing it. No, it wasn’t that. Those flames had barely touched it,as Tigra had taken upon her the destructive power, sacrificing her life. But losing her as the One connected to its spirit, the Tree was left alone and deeply saddened. He missed the love she always brought, the joy that she constantly collected and transmitted from the people of the Citadel.
Not that Asterius was neglecting his newly assumed duties. No, he was diligently checking on the Tree, day by day, round and round up to the top, climbing the scaffolding built around it. Made at the order of Asterius , it was like a golden cage and the Tree felt trapped. The Opal Gates were never again opened and light was coming only through the luminatory from above. Asterius’ visits were bringing no relief or warmth to the Silver Tree. The touch of his hands was chilling like the cold of winter. There was no love lost between them. They both held secrets and the Chief Guardian was weary about anyone connecting to the Tree. It was too much at stake to take such risk.
Without love, the Tree found no joy and reason to thrive and live on. Outside the Sanctuary love had seemingly died , being replaced by fear, hatred, silence. Dead silence. Just like the green of the leaves turning to yellowish shades, the people of the Citadel had lost their colors. In the passing twenty years, the once joyful, diverse and sizzling community turned into a quiet, down-toned conformity. Of course, they were alive and following their daily routine. They were falling in love, marrying and having children. They were building, creating and sustaining the life of the Citadel. They were listening to the words of Asterius spread by his followers and they were respecting the rules enforced by the White Guardians. They have long since stopped being preoccupied about the Silver Tree. Asterius was in charge of it so they had no reason to worry anymore. Life of the Citadel was going on well and in order.
Or maybe not? It’s not in the nature of human beings to give in to pressure for long, so it wasn’t only the Silver Tree hiding a secret. In that tragic day, Savian and à group of Changers made à narrow escape from the White Guardians and moved into the dark forest outside the Citadel. They knew no one would dare to follow them. That was a territory shrouded in legends and mystery.
It wasn’t always like that, but gradually, the people of the Silver Tree build their home around the life-giving entity and slowly, they separated themselves from the rest of the land, encompassing the Tree into their city and secluded, yet thriving culture. The decision changed the balance of the land, concentrating most of the strength of the Silver Tree inside the walls and leaving the outside world to thrive mostly on its own. Losing contact and knowledge about that world, people filled the gaps with imagination and stories about fantastic beasts. Little they knew that the darker world of the forest outside was indeed home to some exceptional animals.
The group of Changers lead by Savian soon discovered that outside the walls of the city their abilities were diminished so they had to rely on their average human side. Nonetheless, the forest proved to be an acquiring place and they’ve set foot and made a safe camp easier than they expected. So they’ve built a new life and kept close to the city to help escape their Invisible brothers and sisters.
Inside the white walls of the Citadel Asterius kept an iron grip on people and hunting down the Changers remained one of his favorite activity. There was seemingly no escape from him, his army of Guardians and the ferocious ferdogs. The Invisibles were left to lead a miserable existence, stealing food, sleeping in hidings, pushed aside by the rest of the people. Helping them was strictly forbidden and treated as an act of treason so there were a very few daring to do it.
Yet they were the ones helping the Invisibles or the uncaught Changers to escaping from the city. People couldn’t leave the city without approval and even then, it was considered a foolish act by most of the citizens. And yes, the White Guardians were patrolling the walls, followed by their ferdogs, preventing people from doing such things. But when your child in under threat inside the walls, the world outside doesn’t seem so frightening anymore. Leanna learned about the escape route by chance.
The northern wall of the city was the oldest ever built and it was hidden behind the dense shrubbery with thorns meant to scare away anyone from inside or outside. Even the guards were keeping their distance while patrolling the area. That vegetal growth was impenetrable. Well, not exactly. Once in every moonless night, the shrubbery would open a narrow passageway to the outside but finding it in the darkness was not an easy thing to do. Neither was finding this piece of knowledge as it was shrouded in myth and legends. People dismissed it as à tell-tale, but for those desperate to save their lives or that of their loved ones, even a legend could bring a ray of hope.
Myths and legends Leanna knew a lot. A large collection of ancient stories was all she had, left from her late mother. Her gentle father used to read her stories from that book when she was small and soon after she had learned to read, it became her favorite reading. Going through these stories was like walking hand in hand with her Mom in worlds beyond imagination. Leanna never learned her real name and she stopped asking when she saw the pain in her father’s eyes. Now the legacy of her mother was opening the way to save her little boy.
The young mother was all alone in her hardship. As soon as it became clear that their child was a Changer, her husband left them. He didn’t want to get involved in such a disgrace. All he could promise was to keep the secret for a while. Now mother and child were trying to reach the northern wall under the cover of the moonless night. They were lucky not to meet anyone on their way. The nights were still cold this time of the year, giving a chill to those venturing out. Chased by the boisterous early spring winds, clouds were running in the skies, filtering the light of the scattered stars. The two ducking shapes reached the premises of the shrubbery. Leanna touched the tip of the entwining of branches and surprisingly, it opened a bit before them. She pushed the child forward and followed him, listening to the noises behind. They’ve soon reached a narrow opening in the wall. Right under it, a steep slope was leading into the valley ,its rim guarded by the dark mass of the forest.
-We have to descend and get to the trees, my dear-whispered Leanna. But when she wanted to move, something caught her leg from behind and she heard the growl of the ferdog. She pushed her child forward, screaming:
-Run, Avik, run!!!!
Scared, the child tripped and rolled down the slope. He ended up dizzy and pained, with the voice of his Mom ringing in his ears:
-Run, Avik, run!!!!
He stumbled and ran and stumbled again in the darkness, sobbing…
A sudden swoosh and something or someone picked him up, flying into the skies, holding him close, keeping him warm. A gentle voice was whispering in his ears:
-Shhhht, don’t cry little one! You’re safe with me….
The sudden appearance created a commotion inside the small group hiding at the rim of the forest.
-What was that?!-exclaimed some of them.
-I don’t know-responded another voice-but we must hurry to find out. That child might be in grave danger.