The Lost Butterfly-a story of aliens, love and humans (1f)

Chapter 1f.

Winter was setting over the city step by step. The gloomy days of endless autumn rains were over. Day by day, frozen white stars showered from the skies, enveloping the surroundings in a blissful blanket of cold silver.

The shopping madness already erupted, the furious in and out sweeping through the city. Fuyuki’s works sold better than ever, raising his confidence and making his loved ones proud; yet the oncoming Christmas made the young man a little bit anxious. Like so many other things from everyday life, this particular event was a first for Fuyuki. Since Yoshiasu had a very crowded schedule at work he relied entirely on Angela. Luckily, she enjoyed doing things together with the young artist. She looked upon him like on a younger brother. So they bravely worked themselves through the necessary shopping and set all the details for their trip to the mountains. Fuyuki was more than happy to leave the city. The constant swarm of the town proved to be tiring. He needed a break and some personal time with Yoshiasu. And then, there was the problem of the Christmas presents; the small things for the others were already packed up. The butterfly necklace he had designed for Angela was almost ready. There was only one person left but it was the most important one for Fuyuki. He was at loss; he knew that Yoshiasu had everything money could buy, everything he needed. Well, Angela helped him pick a fine, warm pullover but it didn’t feel like a real gift. Fuyuki buried his worries deep inside, hoping that he would come up with something more personal until Christmas.

Days went by and the moment of the departure finally came. Everybody was excited. Yoshiasu was well aware that for him and Fuyuki this holiday could prove to be  a real challenge. It was their first public appearance as a couple. It was also about assuming their identity while among their friends there were  girls still holding some hope about  handsome Yoshiasu. It was a big step for Fuyuki to meet so many strangers in such a particular moment of the year; Yoshiasu was determined to keep him safe from any harm or malicious pressure. He was happy that Angela would accompany them, despite the fact that her fiancé, George was stuck abroad and couldn’t join them. They were about to meet at the New Year’s Eve Party. George was a fine guy, reliable and open minded, deeply in love with Angela. Yoshiasu hoped that he’ll accept Fuyuki easily.

Yoshiasu and Fuyuki arrived at the inn at the early hours of the 24-th of December. The landscape was spectacular and the snow was sparkling and pristine. The morning chill put some color in their cheeks. After the heavy snowfall the day before, the morning was clear and sunny. Reflecting on the ocean of snow, the light was overwhelming, blurring all the contours, seeping into every crack and corner, chasing away the bluish shadows. Amazed by the sighting, Fuyuki watched in awe the unfolding of this natural beauty. His unusual lilac eyes captured the light like two translucent pools reflecting the endless skies.

They settled in their room and went out for a walk. The rest of the group was due to come in the afternoon. Angela was arriving with the crowd; she wanted to stop for a visit to her parents who lived in a small city nearby.

As they crossed the lobby, Fuyuki noticed the Christmas tree centered in the main room. It was a two meters high, richly decorated fir tree. Fuyuki walked closer and gently ran his fingers over the branches. Sudden memories clouded his face; Yoshiasu stepped behind him, touching his shoulder.

-Do you remember anything, Fuyuki?- he asked in a reassuring voice.

-I…I remember the excitement of the expectation and that…it felt good. My memories are mostly feelings, not facts. I was very young at that time…

-Don’t get upset-said Yoshiasu and took him by the hand. Let’s go out and I’ll tell you about my ups and downs with Santa.

Fuyuki shook away the setting gloom and followed his friend. The snowy landscape had a definite appeal for both of them. They roamed all around, stumbling from time to time over a lighter heap of frozen stars.  They made snowballs and competed in throwing them faraway, they pushed each other down the small slopes and happily rolled over the fluffy sparkling blanket.  They fooled around until they tired; they finally stopped, lying down in the snow, panting from exhaustion and excitement.

From the corner of his eyes Yoshiasu watched Fuyuki smiling happily. He rose, bent over the younger man and kissed him. Fuyuki encircled his neck with his arms and kissed him back. Yoshiasu’s hand moved along Fuyuki’s body as their kissing deepened. They fell back breathless and stood there, gaze lost in the endless azure above. Moments later they heard the sound of the arriving cars; they stood up, shook the excess of snow clinging to their clothes and returned to the inn hand in hand.

Angela was just stepping out of the car when they got there. She affectionately kissed them both and asked them playfully:

-Have you already started the party?

They laughed, picked up her luggage and followed her in. Everybody got their room and after a while the lobby filled with young men and women eager to relax and start the party. The food was already on display and it proved to be delicious. They were all hungry and slaloming with a plate in hand eased the connecting between the 30 some people.

Angela chuckled and kicked Yoshiasu with the elbow from time to time, as she caught various people staring at Fuyuki. Holding his loved one by his shoulders, the computer analyst introduced him to each and every one of his friends and their companions. He did it easily and naturally, without ostentation and even the most jealous girls had to admit that Yoshiasu’s choice was…charming. As things settled, fun took over. The laughter and joy bubbled and the party turned out to be a real success. It was well past midnight when they finally returned to their rooms.

Yoshiasu showered and sat on the top of the bed with a small glass of wine, waiting for Fuyuki to shower. The room was pleasantly warm as deep cold settled outside the windows. The night sky was teaming with stars, the light above mirroring the endless glitter of the ocean of snow below. Fuyuki sat next to Yoshiasu and took the other glass. He took a small sip and looked into his friend’s eyes. The older man furrowed his brows questioningly:

-What’s wrong, Fuyuki?

The younger man sighed.

-It’s about your Christmas present…

-I’m not a child, Fuyuki. You don’t have to worry…Besides, as long as I have you, I need nothing else.

Fuyuki put his glass aside and sat face to face with Yoshiasu.

-It’s all I can give you…-he said and his voice broke.

Yoshiasu watched him intently; there was a warm light glittering in the amethyst mirrors and a slight tremble in the young man’s body. Yoshiasu  gently touched his face and the warmth of Fuyuki’s body seeped through his fingertips, making his heart run wild.

-Fuyuki, are you sure?-he asked in a restrained voice.

Fuyuki closed his eyes, letting the bathrobe slip off his shoulders. Yoshiasu laid him down and kissed him deeply. Fuyuki’s breath hitched as Yoshiasu moved down, kissing the soft curve of his neck. Senses and emotions flared up in their embrace and love moved forward, breaking down the barriers of painful memories. Fuyuki opened to Yoshiasu totally and unrestrained, seeking the magic of feelings he sought for so long. Their love making brought them high and when they reached the climax, it left them dizzy with elation.

Released from anxieties and overwhelmed by his feelings, Fuyuki was quietly sobbing, curled up in Yoshiasu’s arms. Yoshiasu squeezed him lovingly and caressed him until the tears dried and the younger man fell asleep, protected by his lover.

They woke up late, fulfilled and more in love than ever. They quickly showered and went downstairs where their friends were already opening the presents. As they were the last ones to descend, eyes turned towards them for a moment. Just like Angela, people noticed that there was a new light in Yoshiasu and Fuyuki’s eyes and a certain glow coming from inside. Even the most skeptical ones had to admit that the signs of LOVE were unmistakable in the appearance of the two young men.

So everyone returned to the unwrapping of packages and Angela greeted her two best friends.

-I have a feeling that you’ve already got your present-she chuckled.

-Do we have to admit on that?- asked Yoshiasu and they all laughed.

They sat on the floor together and started the unwrapping of the presents along with the others.

Fantasy

Writing Fantasy started with drawing and dreaming in my case. This is one of my few drawings where all has begun. In time, my pencil decided to write instead of drawing…

Lost in a world that lies inside, somewhere where dreams are born and fade away on the shore of bubbling light and inside the cracks where Reality seeps in, calling for me…

My characters constantly carry a certain melancholy , the yearning for faraway spaces, a feeling of lingering autumn mist.

  Before I can verbalize my thoughts I have moods and feelings of something trying to get my attention. A moment of weirdness, definitely….

Exif_JPEG_420
Exif_JPEG_420
Exif_JPEG_420

The Invisibles-Chapter 10.

The moonless night opened its velvet wings over the land, muffling sounds and filling every corner with shapeless, crawling shadows. In the dim light of the stars, the groups were gathering in the specially chosen points outside the Citadel. The earth was trembling imperceptibly under their feet as the Moon-thorn bushes were pushing towards the surface.

   When the night reached its apex, the powerful vegetal hands dislodged chunks of the white walls, opening the way for the outcasts. They quickly spread on the streets, trying to go unnoticed as far as they could . The aim of the group lead by Satoru, which comprised Cora too, was to reach the Sanctuary and  save the Silver Tree. They managed to get far enough when they bumped into the White Guards. After the first moments of shock, both sides engaged in bitter fight and chase in the streets of the City.

     People woke up to the noise of the battle and running. At first, they weren’t keen to intervene; but soon, some of them decided to help one side or the other and step into the fight. Above them all, the angry growl of clashing Shadowcats and ferdogs filled the air with chilling sounds…

      Up in his residence, Asterius woke up to the sound of a heavy fist knocking on his door. He jumped out of his bed and listened intently: there was a strong rumor coming from the streets.

-Commander!-shouted Rolf Asterianus, knocking nervously at the door of the main entrance. We’re attacked by the outcasts! They are everywhere in the streets!

  Asterius opened the door with an angry move and grabbed the young man.

-How could that happen?! Were you all sleeping in your posts?!!! Incompetent fools! You practically invited them in! What is your excuse, you…you idiot!!!?

But the young commander was not keen to take the bash and he dismissed the angry shouts of his uncle.

-We were not sleeping! They broke into the city by the breaches in the wall opened by the thorn bushes that grew overnight! There was no sign of them yesterday evening! You know very well that we had burn them to the ground. How could I know that they can grow at such speed and damage the walls?!

   Listening to him, Asterius calmed down instantly. He already knew where his true enemy was lying: in the Sanctuary.

-The Tree…..-he growled. The Silver Tree…

But Rolf misunderstood his words and he quickly reassured his uncle.

-No, no, don’t worry! The Silver Tree is safe. I’ve placed my best squadron there to protect it.

-The bastard….-Asterius spew the word, without further explanation. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out a vial. He slipped it in his pocket with a smirk; the Silver Tree was as good as dead. He then turned to the young commander and barked a few  orders, then dismissed him. Rolf Asterianus left in a hurry.  

-So you are here, my rebellious son!-murmured Asterius , looking outside.

 Soon it would be dawn and  he had to go and reach the Sanctuary. He has ordered Rolf to move away the squadron of White Guards and send them to protect the Council of Elders. He needed to get to the Silver Tree undetected, if he wanted to finish his work. He took his hooded cape and left the house.

   At the same time, Gondwana was ferociously opening way for Satoru’s team. The young leader knew that his father was not sleeping peacefully in his bed. Oh, no! He was sneaking somewhere in the streets, trying to do as much harm as he could. Cora was focusing on both the dangers of the battle and the faint call of the Silver Tree. Ogren was backing them up, pushing back any attempt of hurt against his friends. In the heat of the action, he sometimes changed into a big brown bear, sending the attackers to the ground with one hit of his large paws. They’ve got at the Sanctuary at the same time with Asterius.

    

The Confrontation

    Satoru and Cora confronted Asterius atop of the circular row of stairs. They have cornered the self-appointed ruler of the Citadel and he was  enraged. Where was that stupid nephew of his when he was needed?! The White Guardians were fighting the Invisibles in the streets and the members of the Council were hiding, waiting for the outcome of the battle. Satoru and Asterius were facing each other for the first time after many years. Despite the strong, slender features of his son, the cold hearted father could see only a crippled youth challenging his authority. The veins of his neck were bulging of fury as he spat his words towards Satoru:

-You!!…You’re nothing but a petty criminal in cahoots with the enemies of your own people! These freaks of Nature have poisoned and almost destroyed the Silver Tree that is safe-guarding our lives!

-That’s a lie!-shouted Cora.

-How do you know?-sneered Asterius, turning to her. You’re a foreigner in this land! What do you know about us?!

-I know because I am an Arberian and my people has its own Tree Guardian. There are many such trees in the lands around us and they are all connected through their roots. I am a chosen ambassador of my people and I was taught to connect to the Tree so yes, I know that you are lying! The Silver Tree has finally shown me the face of its longtime tormentor and that face belongs to you, Asterius! You are the one causing the demise of your Tree!!!

    Cora pointed her finger to the Chief Guardian and suddenly, everyone in the City Square froze in action,turning their attention to him. Asterius reddened in anger and with an inhuman cry, he jumped forward to slay the girl defying him. But Satoru lunged swiftly in his way and took the blow without blinking. He fell to the ground, heavily bleeding while in her rage, Gondwana, the Shadowcat mauled Asterius to death. As Cora was kneeling, holding Satoru in her arms, the fight around them ended  and citizens, Changers and White Guardians gathered in silence, forming a large circle around them. Ogden was shattered by pain while Cora was choking on her streaming tears.

-Don’t leave me, my love…-she whispered. Please…I need you by my side. How can I go on without you?  

-I’m…not…leaving you….- Satoru articulated the words in pain. You’ll see….I’ll be with you…always…just call me…when you need me….

   She caught his last breath was caught in a kiss. Releasing her beloved, Cora stood up silent, numbed by the pain. How was she supposed to move forward? How can anyone live with such a hole in the heart, such throbbing void of loss? All of a sudden she felt the need to run wild and   never stop…Run, run till she would drown in her tears ! She choked on the  pressure of the tears left uncried….OH!!!!

   She felt the warmth of a tiny hand trying to cuddle inside her closed fist; it was Avik. Left with Petunia in the safety of the forest camp,he could feel her pain. Cora sighed and sent him a reassuring smile. The moment of personal anguish was over. The Invisibles were waiting for her to lead them and she wasn’t going to let them down. So she bent over Satoru and kissed him once more, then cut a strand of his hair, hiding it next to her heart.

    The Invisibles  took Satoru to the Sanctuary while Cora and Ogden followed them in silence. Moments later, Elders of the City arrived in the square and Rolf Asterianus joined them. They entered in the Sanctuary to talk with the leaders of the Insurgents, while outside the people were slowly assessing the damages, some of them emerging from the houses, looking for their long lost relatives among the Invisibles. Despite the tragic end of the clash, the moment Asterius met his demise under the paw of the Shadowcat, the spell making the Changers invisible broke, and those unjustly torn away from their loved ones could be seen and see each other. Sounds of joy, sighs, cries and tears filled the air as people embraced and kissed.

     Inside the Sanctuary, the Elders, Cora and Ogden, the Changers and Rolf Asterianus were facing each other. The young Captain of the White Guards was torn between his duty towards his uncle and the feeling that the ugly facts delivered by the girl before him were true. Nonetheless, he challenged her:

-Why would we trust your words, young lady? Your claims about our respected leader Asterius have no proof!

 Cora took a deep breath before answering him; this young man was both the aid of a man she loathed and the close relative of the man she loved.

-Revered Elders and Commander Asterianus! I have been in contact with the Silver Tree ever since I was in my own country. She has sent out a call for help and I have followed it until I got here. You can believe me or not. But I know that the custom of this land is that before dying, the Tree leaves behind a seed and only her Trusted One can find it. I will step back and leave it to you to find that seed. If you fail, it will be my turn to do the search.

   She bowed and joined the ranks of the Changers, next to Ogden. On the other side of the chamber,the Elders and Rolf were having an animated.talk.

-The girl is right, Commander-said Matriarch Arantha, one of the Elders. Only the Chosen One can find the seed of the dying Tree.

-But how do we know our Tree is dead? I see it standing!-protested Rolf.

-You have a point, Commander-replied Elder Comino, head of the Council. As the closest person to Asterius, we appoint you to do the search. If you fail, we will allow the foreign girl to try her luck. May Truth and Justice be with you!

   So they returned to the Changers with the offer and Cora and Ogren agreed, opening the way for Rolf Asterianus to do his search. The young man approached the battered Tree with deep emotion. There was so much at stake…and even his own peace of mind stood in the outcome of this task. He stopped before the huge trunk and touched it gingerly. In a fraction of a moment, the Silver Tree disintegrated, turning into a dense mist spreading under the dome of the Sanctuary. When it finally condensed, it became a silver cloud, levitating  far beyond reach. In the place where the Tree once stood nothing was left, except for the barren soil. A murmur of surprise erupted from the audience and Rolf staggered, emotionally shaken.Resonating to his inner turmoil, Cora touched his shoulder.

-It’s not your fault, Commander. The Tree has gone through much lately and it has put its trust in me. It’s nothing personal in its reaction.

   She stepped forward, eyes closed and the palms of her hands open. She focused on the search for the small voice of the Spirit in the Seed. The cloud of silver dust descended upon her, shrouding  Cora in a glowing cocoon.

“ I’m here…”-said the little voice and the seed materialized in the palms of the girl. It was warm and silky, with the rhythm of life throbbing inside it, like a heart.

“ You’re safe with me.”-murmured Cora and she opened her eyes, then turned to the others around. She showed the heart shaped seed, then walked out the sanctuary and stood on the top of the stairs:

-Citizens of the Silver Tree Citadel! I stand here before you, holding the seed of your future Tree, as it was handed out to me by the one that has guarded your life for such a long time. This seed is the promise of a new era, one where there’s no place for division and suffering! You have been cheated and lied and driven to hate your own kin. The Silver Tree died of broken heart and before that, I made a promise that I would protect its child and its beloved people from repeating such a sad history!

No one should be invisible ever again! No one should be denied the beauty of itself! No one should become an outcast for being different! Hate breeds only more hate and that endless spiral of hatred would eventually bring down and destroy us all! We cannot build our happiness on the misery inflicted to others! Such an edifice will only fall to pieces eventually.

  You have built such a magnificent city, you have poured the beauty of your souls into the magic of your creation. But once you have allowed fear to live inside its walls, you’ve stripped of the beauty, emptied  your lives and deprived the Silver Tree from the wonderful emotions that kept it alive and healthy. The Changers were your beautiful, unique children, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and you allowed a hateful, maddened individual to trash them, to wrongly accuse them, to demonize them! But not all of you….

   Luckily there were those who saw that this is terribly wrong. They have put their lives in jeopardy  to save the innocents and ultimately to save you all from becoming the real monsters. I bow before them and I bow before you all. Please accept my humble offer of help in healing your wounds and in rebuilding your lives!

   Finishing her speech, she looked around, trying to read the faces of people listening to her. She saw hope and support, she saw acceptance and deep relief. Some of the bystanders started to cheer and soon, the whole city square was booming of the joyful voices. That evening, the former Invisibles took Satoru’s body to their camp in the forest and incinerated their beloved leader under the moonlight. Cora stood there, holding Avik’s hand, supported by her friends, Petunia and Ogren, Savian and all the others. Satoru’s Shadowcat was sitting at Avik’s feet, guarding him closely. Cora took Satoru’s ashes and the next morning, she travelled to the highest point of the region to plant the Silver Seed.

    She took out her knife and dug a hole in the ground. When it was deep enough, she took out the small box from her pocket and opened it. The Silver Seed was softly shimmering in the morning light. Cora carefully removed it from the box and gently placed it at the bottom of the hole, like she was laying a child to sleep. She then wiped clean the crystal knife and made a small cut on her palm. Three drops of blood sealed the connection between the young Queenie and the future Tree. But there was yet something else to do. She took out another little box and removed the strand of black hair from inside. She closed her eyes and kissed it, breathing in the painfully familiar scent, then placed the final gift next to the magical seed. With a quick move of her wrist, she cut her long , braided tail and placed the fiery-gold strands next to Satoru’s. She sprinkled the ashes of her beloved in the hole, then fill it up with soil.

“ Farewell, my love…”-she whispered as she pressed the ground firmly. She stood up, drew a protective circle around the place and walked away slowly. She has buried her heart along with seed of the new Tree that would grow and  protect from now on the Land of the Invisibles.

 

The Invisibles-Chapter 9.

-We have to use this summer to train for the assault against Asterius. His guards are powerful and loyal to him and they have also ferdogs that can inflict lethal wounds during the fight-stated Satoru at the meeting of the community.

-I could train more Shadowcats till then!-offered Galen, a tall and lean Changer, with feline features. They are not afraid of the ferdogs.

-I will pick a team of helpers and we will teach the fight techniques to anyone willing to join-added a bulky man. My friend Ogren has already volunteered!

Satoru nodded approvingly.

-Great! I agree with these action plans but we must keep in mind that things might end up nasty t and the ones left here in the forest camp must be protected. For now, the training will be the first stage of the preparations. But we need to find a way to get inside the Citadel unnoticed. I need every person to come forward with its idea, no matter how improbable-sounding one and share it. There has to be a weak point in the protection of the city even after the measures ordered by Asterius!

~~~~~

Up in the Citadel, the High Commander of the White Guards was overjoyed by the success of his play put in action. It reached a shocking, bloody end, delivering a hard blow to both his enemies: those who were helping the Invisibles and the Silver Tree. It muffled even the discontent inside the Council of Elders where Asterius knew that he had some opponents. But no one knew that he was slowly damaging the Silver Tree to determine it to grow a seed, one that he would then plant and manipulate for his purposes. His loyal followers, the Guards under his command and his nephew, Rolf Asterianus, they all looked up at him as to the savior of the Citadel.

He smirked at the thought of his future power and poured himself a glass of heavy red wine.

-Cheers…to me!-he said to his reflection in the window glass. Beware, you crippling and you, monsters! Your days are soon to be cut short….

But while Asterius was celebrating his victory, Satoru and the outcasts were busy in creating the plan of the attack. Savian’s thorough knowledge of the Citadel was of great help and they were searching every inch of the white walls to find the weak points. The data gathered through the air mail brought by the pigeons was used to create the map of the White Guardians’ shifts. The pressure of time was almost tangible; the great damage suffered by the Silver Tree was raising the question of how much it will resist and how its demise might affect the land and every living thing. There was nothing similar described in their known history and people were fearing the worst. Cora was keeping in touch with the Silver Tree in her dreams, the only time when the Tree, being alone, was confident enough to communicate with her.

And even then, the dark shadow threatening its life was present somehow.

“It’s killing my Tree…”-cried the little, fluffy Spirit. It came today and poured some horrible thing in the water! He said: -You have no escape! This is killing you bit by bit but not before you finish your work! Then the seed will be mine!”

“But who is he?!” -exclaimed Cora.

“Oh, he’s a horrible, horrible person….My Tree is so afraid…You must hurry! I don’t know how much it can resist!”

“Tell the Tree we are almost ready but we need to find the way to get in!”

“ Hurry up…….Pleeease…..-veiled the Spirit, fading inside the red mist.

Cora woke up exhausted and thoughtful. So much to do, so little time for it!

~~~~

The Silver Tree took the message and decided to help with its last remaining strength. All it needed was to finish the silver shell for the Seed and then, dig deep into the ground, find the buried roots of the Moon-thorn bushes and revive them. After Avik’s escape, Asterius ordered people to set the bushes on fire and clear the space next to the walls. But these ancient vegetal monsters had roots far deeper than anyone expected and the Tree sent his last drops of life-giving energy to them. Waking up from their sleep, they responded to the appeal and began to dig their way upward. They grew and grew, extending their strong roots under the walls, until they formed a vegetal network under the Citadel’s protection. All they needed was a moonless night and the signal of the Silver Tree. This was the final message, Cora received in her dream and this was the breakthrough they were waiting for. Soon, it would be the long awaited night and the army of Invisibles and their allies was ready to face the enemy.

The night before the attack, Cora and Satoru found themselves teeming with things unsaid, emotions unshared and confessions delayed for too long. The air was dense around them as they sat on the steps outside the house, hands clutched on the cup of linden flowers tea. Finally, Satoru broke the silence.

-I don’t know how things will work out tomorrow….so I wanted to say something-he said, his voice stranded by emotion.

He stopped for a moment turning to Cora and gently ran his fingers through her hair.

-You are the most beautiful and amazing girl that I have ever seen. I look at you and I can’t believe I am not dreaming. I think I’m in love with you….So, if we manage to safely return tomorrow, would you stay with me…forever?

Overwhelmed, Cora swallowed hard before answering. She set aside the cup and put her arms around the young man’s neck.

-I cannot see myself otherwise but by your side….-she whispered.

He held her close, lovingly…. Up in the skies, night unfolded its wings of stars, shimmering in the magical rhythm of love.

The Invisibles-Chapter 8.

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.

 

The Invisibles-Chapter 7

 Up in the Citadel, Asterius was rabid with rage.

-I want every inch of the wall searched and I want you to find  the tiniest crack that can serve as escape route for these monsters!-he shouted at his nephew, Rolf Asterianus who was serving as his aid. I cannot believe that they keep getting off , avoiding our surveillance!

-It’s been increasingly difficult to stop them, even to uncover them lately.-grumbled the young man in response. I’m not sure anymore who’s surveilling who. Since Sa…

-Don’t speak his name!!!!

   Asterius slammed his fist on the table, cracking its top. His son’s departure to join the Changers outside the Citadel had been a hard blow to his pride. There was no love lost between them but the foolish boy was still bearing his name. And to make things even worse, others followed him, supporting the escapees. Even the Silver Tree seemed to mock him, withering and losing vitality despite the best efforts to keep it alive.

-Leave me alone! -he growled, sending Rolf away. I have to make a plan to crush these vermins once and for all!

     He turned his back on the young man and stood before the high window, scrutinizing the dark expanse of the forest.

“ I’ll find you! I’ll find you!” he thought, gritting his teeth.

         

                                                                       ****

 

They’ve reached the tree house late in the afternoon after crossing much of the forest, passing by the various small communities of Citadelians and  Changers living there. People greeted Satoru with much sympathy and followed the winged girl with unhidden curiosity. Savian’s house appeared before them in a small clearing. It well adjusted to the shape of the tree and it was cleverly camouflaged by the crown of branches and leaves. Memories of her own home surfaced in the mind of the Queenie and she muffled a sigh. The Shadowcat stopped and Satoru signaled their presence with a whistle. Opening the tree-crown above, a special ladder unfolded till it reached the ground. It was built to accommodate the feline and its rider. Cora followed them closely.

 Behind the curtain of leaves, the door opened to a room lit by glowing yellow globes, pending from the ceiling. The walls were full of books and  colorful pieces of arts and crafts. There was a thick , soft carpet on the floor and low chairs to sit.

-Good afternoon, Master Savian!-said Satoru. I came with a guest, if you don’t mind.

-Good afternoon, Satoru! Good afternoon, young lady!-replied a deep, velvety  voice.

    Savian entered the room to greet them, leaving the Arberian girl speechless. A man in his early fifties, he was tall and majestic, wearing an ink-blue robe  embroidered with silver feathers. His kin was dark brown with a copper gloss and his long, black hair was braided in numerous thin tails. His eyes were incredibly blue and their gaze was piercingly clear. He bowed courteously before Cora, but he assessed her in a blink of an eye.

-Your coming was signaled already, Satoru along with the presence of your graceful companion.  Welcome to my humble home, Miss Cora! What  a pair of beautiful wings! It brings back happy memories of my youth. I used to fly a lot but now, I am more an earthling….

 Cora blushed but to replied quickly:

– Thank you for receiving us, Master Savian! I am on a personal quest here and I think I could be of help in your effort  to bring back the balance of this land.

-Hmmm…You seem to be a very determined young lady. How much do you know about us?

-Not much, Master Savian ; but Satoru told me that you’re the beholder of knowledge.

-Then let me share with the two of you my modest place and while having dinner, I’ll try to shed some light on our recent history.

***

   Sipping the warm, fragrant tea poured in colorful cups, Cora and Satoru were listening to Savian’s recount of memories. His voice was full of emotion as he was telling about the tragic days twenty some years before….

-My most powerful memory of all is that of a young woman, facing the “disappearance “ of her beloved husband. They were recently married and madly in love. This Curse of invisibility was  a harsh and long forgotten penalty, used hundreds of years before only in the worst cases like vicious murder or treason. Those days were largely forgotten so the impact of the revival of the curse was even more powerful. This woman had watched the entire act, eyes in eyes with her husband and the moment his last visible piece vanished, she broke the line and rushed to embrace him. She held him close and she didn’t want to let go, no matter how hard others tried to drag her away! This image stayed fresh in my mind and gave me the strength to continue the fight.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

  -So…are you a Changer?

Cora and Satoru were sitting on the steps of the house, days after visiting Savian. The encounter made a great impression on the Queenie and she grew even more determined to be by the side of the outcasts. As for Satoru, he came back strengthened in his trust towards her; he could see Savian opening before the girl like never before. Maybe this was the sign he had been waiting for…Satoru turned his attention to Cora:

 -No, I am not-he said. One doesn’t have to suffer to become aware of others’ pain and to step in to help those who are suffering. One simply has to act upon its true self. By the way,you’re not a Changer either and here you are, ready to get involved in our fight.

   She shook her head with a smile.

-Hmmm, yes….You’re right. So…what if I fly over the walls and rescue people like I did with Avik?

-Avik is a small child. Hauling an adult would be hard and dangerous. The White Guards are all over the place. We’ve got messages from inside that Asterius has sent them to check every corner of the wall. He is a madman, Cora. I wouldn’t put you in his way!

It was a passionate outburst from this calm and balanced young man, bringing back a small detail Cora  recalled hearing  in that previous discussion between Satoru and Petunia, Ogren’s wife.

-You seem to know well  Asterius….-she said quietly.

There was a moment of silence then Satoru murmured in a low voice:

-He is my father. Growing up separated from him helped me see clearly who he really is.

The pain was clearly audible in the restraint of Satoru’s voice and Cora decided to go further tactfully.

-What happened?-she asked softly.

-He couldn’t accept that I was born crippled-sighed the young man. I never thought that I would be scorned for something that wasn’t my fault. No matter how hard I would’ve tried, I couldn’t change the fact that I was born impaired. But for my father this was the ultimate humiliation. Not only that the woman he sought refused him, but his son was crippled, a failure, good for nothing. The moment he realised that I will never be able to follow his footsteps, he moved out from home and left my gentle mother in shame and despair. He was sending her money to live and to raise me, but forbid her to get in touch with him. When my cousin was born, he took him under his protection and raised him with all the attention he should’ve given to me…

– That must’ve been awful…-sighed Cora, remembering her joyful connection with her father.

– No. Not so much….I was a child, I had friends of my age who weren’t disturbed by my limitations and I always loved to read, to learn and to dream. But I saw my Mom slowly fading like a withering flower and  many times I caught her wiping her tears or muffling her sobbs. She loved me dearly and the pain my father inflicted on us, shortened her life. This is something I can neither forget, nor forgive.

-I can understand that, Satoru….-whispered Cora.Something dark and very dangerous must inhabit your father’s heart.

-It’s cold ambition and vanity, nothing more. His heart is devoid of love and warmth-said Satoru bitterly. Oh, well! Enough sadness ! Come with me, Cora! I want to show you something.

 

                                                                                             ****

 

The Silver Tree was dozing in the dim light filtering through the ceiling. For the first time in countless years, it was sleeping peacefully. Deep inside its core, a seed of hope was growing. The flash of message it received recently, brought the Tree back to life. In these rare moments of comfort, the Tree was dreaming of happy times, of love, of joy, of freedom. Cuddling inside its silver shell, the Spirit of the Tree was dreaming too. Somewhere close, a girl with fiery hair was coming to save them.

 

                                                                    ***

 

   Riding his shadowcat, Satoru lead Cora to Goren and Petunia’s home. A safe enclosure provided playing ground to the orphans. The children were playing in the warm sun, watched by two women. One of them was Petunia, holding her baby who seemed to enjoy the happy noises and the fresh air. Cora’s eyes  were searching for Avik inside the group of children.

-Did you spot him?-asked Satoru, guessing her preoccupation.

-I cannot find him- she answered. I can’t believe that I’ve already forgotten how he looks…

   The girl was visibly upset.

-You cannot recognize him because he is hiding. He’s a Changer. Look under the tree in the corner. What do you see on the ground ?

Cora looked carefully and saw a small  brown rabbit hiding in the shade. She turned questioningly to Satoru. He nodded affirmatively.

-He’s changing because he’s upset. He’s a sensitive little boy; he needs time to adjust, even if he’s well taken care. Petunia is a great mother to all of them but she’s not his mother.

-Oh!!

Cora felt a lump in her throat. She turned to Petunia who was coming to greet them.

-Good morning, Petunia! Satoru brought me to see the children. Could you introduce me to them? I don’t want to frighten them with my strange appearance but I would love to see Avik!

-Good morning, my friends-said Petunia warmly. I’m glad you came; this might ease the boy’s anxiety. Come, Cora! I’ll introduce you to the kids.

   She handed her baby to the other woman and took Cora to the playground, presenting her to the children. They surrounded the Queenie, they asked her lots of things about her wings and she allowed them to touch. The kids giggled and after a while, they returned to their games. Cora  headed to the tree and carefully sat down  next to the bunny rabbit. She felt awkward for a moment; it was hard to believe that this little animal was in fact a human child. What if they are making fool of her? She quickly dismissed the thought. Trust is a two way street; one has to trust in order to be trusted. She gently caressed the bunny.

-Hello, Avik….It’s me, the lady with the cookies. Do you remember me? Look, I’ve brought you another one.  

   She took a cookie from her pocket and placed it in the grass,right under the nose of the bunny. It worked. The little rabbit shook and reversed appearance. The little boy hopped in her lap, cuddling  in Cora’s arms, holding her strong. She embraced him lovingly and kissed the top of his head, rocking him gently.

-Don’t worry, Avik. I will always be here for you.

-I must admit she’s working miracles-said Petunia, watching the bonding outside the playground.

-She does -said Satoru.

He was feeling it to. The following days and weeks, Cora spent as much time as possible with Avik. The little boy has grown to her heart and she was determined to help him leave his cocoon. Having a little sister at home and missing her, helped Cora to build the love and trust Avik needed to regain his innocent joy.  Cora  was  often spending the evening reading stories from the book Avik had from his mother or simply improvising funny stories about her own land, Arberia. The children loved the stories and Petunia was grateful for the help. She could rest more and spend time with her baby and her family. So from the rough beginning, Cora and Petunia ended up as good friends and the Queenie won a well deserved respect inside the community of the outcasts.