Ever since the group of Queenies left the Tree, Cora’s mind was set on her own goal: to reach that unknown horizon she had scrutinized so many times from the highest branches. She was also pushed forward by the inner feeling left by the strange dream before the departure. That plea, that spirit lost inside the reddish fog couldn’t be a random appearance. Nor were the Queen’s words said to her: “Follow your fire!”….All these things were giving her an extra boost to follow her quest.
She decided to take a sharp turn upward, leaving the group to fly far below. From here, she could see the larger picture of her homeland. It was a magnificent patchwork of colors and textures, features, sounds and scents. She inhaled the message of blossoming orchards and sun bathed meadows, the fresh taste of clear springs filled her mouth. She opened her senses to the world surrounding her and let all the beauty fill her up. A gentle breeze caught her in its flow and carried her forward.
-Coraaa! Where are you going?!-shouted one of the Queenies..
-Oh, let her go, she’s always been a nuisance!-mumbled another girl. She has a head full of stupid dreams.
-She’ll never be a Queen! But you cannot have much expectations from a Rooter – sneered another Queenie.
-I wouldn’t be so sure…-murmured the firts girl, glancing above. She seems to be able to reach higher than any of us…..
The group continued its flight in silence, each girl scrutinizing the land below to find a place to land. They were flying already for several days and the communities were becoming scarce and isolated. The girls were sleeping on the ground at night, refilling energies for the next day. As the days passed by, the number of Queenies was diminishing with each location they’ve discovered. Though none of them admitted, the girls were seeking locations as close as possible to their home. The weather had been gentle and calm, posing no threat to the flight.
But that changed one day by noon. The unusually warm morning was followed by an abrupt change in the air. Rushed by the strong winds, the clouds built up into a huge,menacing wall inside the steel-grey waters of the sky. The few remaining Queenies changed direction, looking for shelter. Luckily, they’ve spotted the opening of à cave and hurried to hide inside. Cora was lagging behind, fascinated by the unfolding of the storm and the dramatic changes in the skies. As she was watching the thick, grey wall descending, a dark vortex opened inside, touching ground. A cacophony of crazed voices and screams erupted around her, mixing with the furious swirl of leaves, sticks, dirt caught up by the powerful winds. Before she could move and retract to safety, the storm engulfed her. Cora closed her eyes and delved into the current, trying to reach the core of the storm. In the deafening noise she heard a painful veiling, one that she already knew:
-Help meeee……Don’t leave me aloooone….
With a strong push, Cora punctured the swirling wall and landed inside the eye of the storm. It was a huge column of light and silence, eerie and otherworldly. The bold girl flew upwards, trying to find a safe exit. The higher she got, the stronger the presence of someone watching her became. It was an unseen entity, scrutinizing her from inside the misty glow. Cora turned around, tense and determined. Nothing. She looked up and saw two spots opening in the white fog: they were resembling to a pair of cold blue eyes fixing her. She gazed back defiantly.
“ I’m not afraid!-she thought. You don’t scare me!”
That moment, the storm stopped and vanished, leaving her standing at the border of an unknown land. She could feel under her feet the faint touch of the roots of the Tree of Arberia. Her spirit was intimately connected to it. But one step further there was a different land with a different feel. Small, yellow-grey grass was covering the earth and the land was gently sloping towards a large, dark expanse of dense forest. Somewhere in the distance there was a white brilliance , standing out in the middle of the place. Conflicting sensations washed over the bold Queenie; was she meant to go further or she simply should stay on her land? The call of the unknown was too powerful to be denied, so taking a deep breath, she stepped forward.
The earth felt hard and reluctant under her feet, leaving a sense of unease. Cora bent and ran her fingers over the tips of the grass….Strange: it felt…sad, hollow, disconnected. The simple joy of life seemed to have vanished from this land. Cora sprang in the air and took flight towards the white glow in the distance. Below her, the forest was unfolding its stern, deep green canopy with occasional clearings disrupting the monotony.
It took her a great deal of effort and days of flight to get close to that place. At first the white light was like a shimmering star, then grew into a globe of light, like the full Moon and at last, she arrived to a huge clearing. Right in its center, the Citadel was boldly soaring towards the skies. Even in the scarce light of the moonless night, the smooth, white walls were glowing with an eerie light. You could see inside the gathering of graceful towers, arcades with laces of Moon-stone adorning each column, dozens of airy buildings seemingly topping on each-other….And higher than any other was an electric-blue building, resembling to a rising swan, hiding its face in the wings. Cora was awestruck by the beauty of the Citadel. She has never seen such a magnificent place; she simply couldn’t take her eyes of it. Only when she heard a scream, she turned her attention to what was happening below. The contrast between the light pouring from the city and the darkness surrounding its perimeter was not allowing a clear sight of the events unfolding. But she heard the sobs after the echoes of the screams died and took a sharp flight to where the sound was coming from. Something small was moving in the darkness and it was crying.
A child. A small and frightened child, lost in the night. Cora’s heart sank, remembering Amita. She landed in front of the child and took him up, holding him close.
-Shhhht, don’t cry, little one! You’re safe with me….
She flew up in the light and hurried to put as much distance as possible between the two of them and the dangerously beautiful place. She was hoping to find a small clearing where they could sleep safely at night.
“What other dangers might lurk in this strange place?” -Cora wondered. One thing was sure; the child in her arms was not a monster; it was a human being just like her. Against all appearances, the monsters might be inhabiting the bright city and not the dark forest. Otherwise why would such a small child be on his own, outside in the night?
The night wind cleared the skies and the stars were shining now without any disturbance, their sparkling highlighting a grassy spot in the forest. Cora descended carefully and put down the child next to a tall tree.
-Sit here and I will make a bed of leaves and grass. Are you hungry?- she asked.
-Uhum…-came the answer after a little nod.
Cora put down her backpack and fished for a moment inside it; she took out a handful of cookies and filled the outreached palms of the child.
-Here, eat these. They are cookies with milk and berries. I made them. Don’t move from here because you might get lost in the darkness. I won’t be far. I just want to bring a few branches with leaves. I’ll be right back.
She grabbed a small axe from her pack and walked towards the nearby bushes. She bumped into a tall shape barring her way and before she could react, something hit her from behind and the world turned black before her eyes.
-Ogren, I’ll take her. Go pick up the child and hurry! We don’t know who else might be around here-said one of the dark shapes. He bent over Cora and lifted her on the back of the animal he was riding. Be gentle!-he added turning to his companion. Don’t frighten the child! He’s been through enough….
-Don’t worry, Satoru!-said the other. My skills have greatly improved since I became a father. We’ll follow you in a moment!