When his duties as leader of the community allowed, Satoru spent the evenings, listening to the stories with the children. The little ones loved to crawl in his lap or to sit on the back of Gondwana and the young man mellowed offering them the love he had so much missed as a child. Cora’s warm voice, her deeply emotional or sometimes very funny twists of the stories were balm for his soul. She has grown to his heart in a way no one ever had, reaching the softest depths of his soul.
“Is this love?”-he wondered sometimes. He sighed inwardly. What were the chances that she would feel the same and that she would remain by his side? She had a homeland of hers and a duty to fulfill towards her own people….Satoru dismissed the thoughts and let his mind relax for the moments in the sound of the magic carrying voice.
Cora loved the evenings when Satoru joined them. His presence was always comforting and reassuring and in was in these evenings when his warm and loving inner side was emerging without restraint, generating an emotional flow that enveloped her in magic.
“ Is this love? “-she wondered sometimes. She has never known love before. The years of education as a would-be Queenie prevented her from having a close relationship with young men of her age. Was Satoru feeling the same about her? She couldn’t tell…He had so many responsibilities and he was always considerate towards others. “Oh…whatever.”-thought Cora. We’ll see. I’m glad he’s here and that Avik loves him so much. Maybe the child knows something we still wonder about”…
So while love was slowly but steadily developing between Cora and Satoru, up in the Citadel Asterius was sending out orders.
-Tomorrow I want to speak in the Central Square. Rolf, send the Guardians with the message around the city and gather as many people as possible. See that those who are our strong supporters to be in the first rows, next to the stairs. I will deliver my speech from the promontory of the Sanctuary.
The young man looked at him questioningly.
-Are you reopening the Rebirth Celebrations?
-No, not at all! Those lustful parades are no longer part of our customs. But we need to strengthen our fight against the monsters lurking among us and my speech will serve as a reminder. See that everything would be in place! Dismissed!
Rolf Asterianus left the room with a bow. Time was short and the Leader was short tempered. He hurried down the stairs, shouting orders to his men. Standing at the window, Asterianus was smirking at the thought of his plans. A strange green light was flickering in his eyes as he muttered:” Tomorrow….I’ll show you tomorrow!”
When the sun of a new day reached its peak in the skies above the Citadel, the center of the city was teeming with people waiting for their leader to come. It’s been awhile since they’ve heard him speaking and they were full of expectation. Those fearing what might come were ducking in the hind rows, hoping that their lack of enthusiasm would go unnoticed. Finally, the place fell silent as Asterius made his appearance on the top of the stairs leading to the Sanctuary. He looked stern and preoccupied and he had visibly aged lately. Though he was still good looking, the expression wrinkles of his face had deepened, his hair had turned silver-white and his eyes were bearing a strange, disturbing light. He stood there motionlessly,his eyes scrutinizing the gathering like a bird of prey.
-My fellow Citadelians!-boomed his voice. I have asked you to come today because I need your support . For years I have tirelessly protected this city and you, my people from the monstrosities that were undermining our society. As I look around I can see that you are thriving and I feel joy and gratitude. But lately, the number of concerning happenings had increased and I have found out that some of our citizens had decided to give help to the enemy, jeopardizing the lives of everyone. The health of our beloved Silver Tree is at stake and along with it, our as well.
-Who are those traitors, Asterius?!- shouted someone from the crowd. Bring them before us!!
-Yes! Yes! Bring them here! Let us see them!!!
The number of angry voices from the crowd was slowly mounting.Asterius raised à hand.
-Very well, I will bring here the most recent example. Let’s see what she has to say in her defense!
He made a quick sign to the White Guards and soon, a woman was dragged in and presented to the people. It was Leanna, Avik’s mother. She looked frail after the time spent in jail but she has kept her dignified posture. She faced Asterius without fear. The man grabbed her arm and turned her to the crowd.
-Look at this woman! She was hiding a Changer and she even helped him escape through a hole in the wall. We caught her in the last minute thanks to the vigilance of the White Guards and the keen sense of our ferdogs. But the Changer escaped and became another threat lurking outside our walls!
-I was protecting my child and I am glad that he escaped!-shouted Leanna defiant.
-Then look at the consequences!!!-shouted Asterius, opening with a sudden move the gates of the Sanctuary.
Living for so many years in the dim light seeping through the ceiling of the Sanctuary, the Silver Tree was shocked by the intensity of the full sunlight. To the fragile entity, this invasion of glow was like a dagger in its heart. The Tree shrieked in pain and its trunk split in half, part of it falling to the ground with thundering noise. The intense pain reverberated through space and it reached Cora, leaving her breathless. Overwhelmed by pain, she fainted and fell to the ground before anyone could catch her.
Hell broke out inside the Citadel as the maddened crowd seized the woman they thought to have caused the incredible damage. Asterius stepped aside and left the square unnoticed. Up in the sky, the sun was hiding its face, unable to face the wickedness below. Somewhere, in the attic of a house, a deeply shaken man was sending a desperate message outside the walls. The small letter was carried by a bird that knew exactly where to land. Later that night,the White Guardians shut the gates of the Sanctuary, leaving the Silver Tree frightened and broken.
She opened her eyes and saw Satoru sitting by her side, head buried in his hands: the image of deep concern.
-What happened?-she asked in a husky voice. Her head was still throbbing with a dull pain.
-Hi!-Satoru was clearly relieved hearing her voice. You’ve scared us all when you fainted. How do you feel now?
-Uhm…a bit dizzy and I seem to have difficulties in remembering the events….Wait! Wait….It was a sharp pain….a scream in my mind…..the Tree….Oh! The Silver Tree! It was its pain! I remember now! Something , someone hurt the Tree and it was crying for help!
-It makes sense…-whispered Satoru. Listen, Cora, something horrible happened in the Citadel. We’ve got message from a friend; Avik’s mother is dead. The masterplan imagined and set in motion by Asterius delivered a hard blow to the Changers, to their allies and irreversibly damaged the Silver Tree.
-What?!! Oh….poor Avik….
For the first time, Cora burst into tears and cried bitterly. She cried of shock, she cried of anger.When she finally regained her composure, all it was left inside her was a strong determination.
-I’m sorry…-she said. I’m fine now and I’m ready for whatever you decide. You can count me in.
-You are part of the team, you know it, Cora. I’ve sent already a call around the forest; the others will soon be here and we can work out a plan. This madman has to be stopped!
The Silver Tree was shivering in the darkness of the Sanctuary. It was broken and fragile while the future of the Citadel looked grim under Asterius. The Tree was sensing its strength slowly diminishing, fading in the darkness of the loneliness and confinement. There was only one hope: to grow a seed that would preserve the living spirit of the people entwined with that of the Tree. It was a delicate process that needed time and care. The Silver Tree knew that Asterius would do anything to lay his hand on the seed. The only hope was in that girl with flaming hair coming from another land; she has brought with her the connection with another Tree, a mighty, powerful one and the Silver Tree was gathering the necessary strength from it, in order to give birth to the Seed.
With this comforting thought,the Silver Tree reached below, inside the intricate web of roots and started to build another layer of silver shell around the tiny cocoon nested inside….There was no time for delay.