Chapter One

The day began like any other. Isa, the hard-working young woman awoke early in the morning to tend to the chores around the farm. She grabbed some bread, wrapped it in cloth and strapped it around her shoulders. Her trusty water-skin sat on the wooden tabletop, ready for her to take outside and fill up. The light from the sun had only just barely become visible among the sea of trees that outlined the border of her rather large village and the air felt crisp. She always took a deep breath when she stepped outside her home. With her eyes closed, she let the air fill her lungs and the sound of the birds encompass her ears.
“Time to get to work!” she thought to herself.
Her home was situated highest in her village and from the road leading down to the farmland, she was able to see everybody going about their morning routine. The closest house to hers belonged to an old man named Osmond. He didn’t do much around the village anymore because of his age, but everyone looked to him when they needed advice and he had inadvertently taken up the mantle of village leader.
“Good morning, Osmond!” she said, passing by.
He replied in kind and a large smile took shape on his face, causing it to wrinkle and make him look several years older. Isa took note to stop by on her way home in the evening to help him in any way she could. She hoped to hear another one of his incredible stories, which always left her laying in bed awake at night, thinking of the amazing characters he would describe to her.
It didn’t take long before Isa to reach the rest of the village and she could see even more people hard at work in their shop fronts. She knew each person by name and they too, knew her. After passing several shops and their owners, she made a right turn and passed between two of the stores. Even though the path she took wasn’t actually intended to be used, it was faster than going around and she enjoyed the adventure of taking the road less travelled, so to speak. She came out from the other side in the section of the village where all the laborious jobs and those that partook of them resided. The blacksmith was already hard at work, hammering what looked to be a sword, while his son was crafting some arrows. It was rare for the village to use the weapons made, but passersby would often stock up on supplies as they made their way through the village and they were useful for fending off wild beasts looking to get a meal out of the farm animals. Isa waved to those she passed on her way further down to the farmlands and by the time she arrived at her final destination, the sun had risen above the trees and the warmth from its rays filled her with the last bit of energy needed to go about her day.
“Good morning, Isa!” a voice called out.
It was Joe. He usually started earlier than Isa and continued well-passed sundown. She always wondered how he kept up his routine for so long. She had been part of the farming team for almost three years and he had yet to take a day off. His hair was tied in the usual way of a hurried topknot and although the sun was only beginning to show itself, he was already covered in sweat.
“You certainly don’t waste any time getting to work,” she said.
“Who else is going to pick up the slack? You don’t do very much around here,” he said, giving her a light shove.
She smiled and continued through the fields towards the shed. Some of the crops still had early-morning dew on them and she drew in several more deep breaths as she neared the trees, which were just beyond the building. There was a small window to the side of the shed’s entrance, which Isa preferred to use. It was rare for her to actually enter the small structure and instead she used the window for quick access to the bench just beyond its threshold. She peered around the corner of the building to look at the dense array of trees behind it and the adventures it held called out to her. On most days, after work, Isa would venture off into the woods. Many different types of animals inhabited the area and like the villagers, most of them were friendly. Her most recent memory from within the forest was of when she managed to find a cave which was a small climb up a cliff.
At the time, she had never gone so deep into the woods and its mysteries kept pulling her further in. It grew darker as the sea of trees towering over her, blocked out the sunlight and their scent, along with the plants all around, became more potent. She came to a stop when she neared a riverbed. The cave was just beyond it, but she could see no easy way across. Although she had the time, she didn’t want to backtrack and find a way around, for her eagerness to explore was overwhelming. She looked around for a short while and could find nothing to help her cross, until she looked up. Many of the trees were so close together, their branches would often touch and all she needed to do was climb one of them to access the other side. It was certainly no small feat making her way up the tree she decided would be best to climb, but she managed it, nonetheless. The branches swayed as she sat on them, sliding herself across the water and she breathed a sigh of relief when she made it to the other side without incident. Once she had managed to climb back down, she could make out strange etchings in the cliff-face. Upon closer inspection, they looked to be a way to climb up to the entrance of the cave.
“Does someone live up there?” she thought to herself.
The opening to the cave was only a few feet above, so she decided to climb and managed to reach it with relative ease. It was dark inside and she had no way of creating a light source, but she proceeded forward, her hand tracing the stone wall and ears listening for any evidence of an inhabitant. There was nothing to be seen or heard; however, the unknown kept pulling her deeper. She ventured further into the abyss, her feet often rolling over loose dirt and rocks. It seemed like she had been wandering for a long while before she thought she could hear something. She could tell the source wasn’t close because the echo was faint so she stood still and tried to listen for it again, but it must have been her imagination. Curiosity piqued, Isa pressed on with an eagerness in her step, which wasn’t there before. Several moments later, she was certain she could hear something. She stopped walking and without thinking, slowed her breathing; there it was. It sounded like someone was sobbing and she could tell it was still quite a bit deeper into the cave, but she could no longer see her hand on the wall and didn’t want to get stuck inside the darkness. Did she call out, making her presence known, or, did she continue to listen for a while longer before leaving?
“Is anyone there?!” she called out.
The crying immediately stopped and cold air surrounded her, causing the hairs on her body to stand on end.
“Get out!” a terrifying voice screeched.
It was far louder than the crying she heard earlier, but she knew it was the same person. Isa felt a strong fear in the pit of her stomach and she immediately retreated. She ran as fast as she could, stumbling over several rocks, but maintaining her hand upon the wall to keep track of her position. She was almost able to make out some of her surroundings as she drew closer to the cave’s entrance and soon enough, she had reached the outside world. She heard the voice once more as she climbed down the cliff, this time much closer than before; in fact, she expected the figure belonging to the voice to reveal itself at any moment. She ran even faster, not looking back to see what may emerge from the darkness. Now that she had full visibility of her surroundings, she could see that quite a large chunk of time had passed while inside the cave, but with her fear intensified, she felt there was no time to waste returning home. She didn’t bother to climb the trees once more and instead, opted to run through the river. She pushed her body through the water with all the strength she could muster and soon found herself drenched, but safely on the other side of the riverbed.
“Isa! There you go, daydreaming again. Come help me with this,” Joe called.
Isa snapped out of her daze, shuddering as the fear she felt crept back into her mind. She think herslef the type of person to get frightened easily; however, something about what she experienced in that cave felt eerily ominous. Whenever she decided to venture into the woods after that incident, she intended keep well away from the area which surrounded that horrible cave and whatever creature inhabited it. Joe must have been calling out to her for a long while before she was brought back to the present moment because he seemed rather frustrated when she finally met up with him in the field. The rest of her day passed quite drearily, as it often did, after thinking about her adventures, and when it finally came time for her to finish up, she wasted no time walking past the shed and grabbing her sandwich cloth, eager to enter into the other realm. Although she lived alone, Isa always made sure to bring something home for Osmond as a courtesy for his stories. She took a quick glance around where she stood and eyed some berries which looked ready to be picked. A number of animals were gathered around the various bushes; none of which appeared to be startled by her presence, as they continued eating what they could manage to get their paws on. She placed her cloth on the ground and began picking the berries and placing them inside it. A few of the smaller animals seized the opportunity and tried sneaking a few of her picks, but she managed to shoo them away with relative ease. Once her cloth was filled, she tied it around her shoulders before proceeding to pick a few more handfuls of berries. She took a few steps back from the animals and called out for the attention of the smaller ones from before. She placed the berries on the ground and watched as they munched away, letting her pet and scratch them however she pleased.
With the sun beginning to set, Isa decided it was time to head back home. The few rays left of sunlight were visible above the mountain behind her home, which cast a cooling shadow over the entire village, giving it an entirely different feel compared to earlier in the day. She wasted no time returning home as she was eager to cleanse herself of the day’s labour and relax. Those she had passed on her way down were still hard at work, preparing for the next morning and she gave each of them a cheerful smile when their paths crossed. Up ahead, Osmond could be seen sitting on his favourite chair, almost as if he hadn’t moved from it since the early morning.
When he noticed Isa’s arrival, he gave her a smile so pleasant that she couldn’t help but return the gesture.
“I’ve brought something for you, Osmond,” she said, handing him the cloth.
“What’s this?” he untied the cloth and continued, “Berries? Thank you, my dear. You always seem to bring me the things I want most.”
He stood up from his chair and began to make his way into his home, but stopped in the doorway.
“I have something for you, too. Wait there for a moment,” he said.
Isa hadn’t expected anything in return, but Osmond was always full of surprises and they often turned out to be very helpful. The last thing he had given her was a small stone which emitted a large flame when a phrase had been spoken over it. That same day, she had traveled too far into the woods and night had settled in. The trees, that towered overhead were so dense they blocked out most of the light from the moon. Lucky for her, she remembered the stone and she pulled it out before placing it on the ground. She placed her hand over it and repeated the words Osmond gave her.
“Light the dark, heat the cold, break the silence, heal the soul.”
The sound took Isa by surprise and she jumped back, but the spell had worked. The stone was engulfed in a bright flame, but there was something odd about it. She could feel the heat coming from the stone, but the area around it didn’t burn as if only the rock could be used as fuel.
“You always were one for excitement. Even now, your mind is off on an adventure.”
Osmond had returned from his home with a small wooden case in his hands. The design was plain, but she had never seen that type of wood before. Osmond stood in front of Isa and placed one hand on top of the box, lifting the lid. A soft, red material lined the inside of the box and a small vial rested within, containing some sort of glowing liquid.
“This potion will completely restore your energy. It will replenish itself several hours after being consumed so you can drink this if you ever find yourself lost without food or water,” he said, removing the vial from its home.
She couldn’t tell if the liquid within was blue or if the colour of the vial gave it that appearance. She soon had the answer as Osmond flipped the seal with his thumb and poured the blue drink down his throat. His skin gave off a radiant glow and a marking, which could be seen underneath the collar of his shirt, looked to grow brighter as a result. Even his hair looked to have regained some of its colour, but all of it returned to normal soon after.
“This old body isn’t what it used to be. It can’t even hold the energy it once did,” he chuckled to himself.
He closed the lid to the now empty vial before handing it to Isa. She lifted the vial up in an attempt to get a better look at it, but by that time, the sun had set too far and she was unable to make out any of its details so she placed it in her pocket.
“I have a feeling, with your sense of adventure, you’re going to need that more than I,” Osmond said with a smile.
Isa thanked him and bid him goodnight as she made her way back home. She would have liked to use that potion right now; she was beginning to feel the effects of the days work and she wasn’t wanting to go to bed just yet, but her body had other plans. She knew there was no fighting it so she had a quick wash and jumped into bed. The moment her head hit the pillow, she gave an automatic sigh of relief. She must have been more exhausted than she thought because immediately, her mind drifted off to sleep. It didn’t feel like much time had passed; however, when a violent rumble had woken her up. Sitting in her bed, it seemed like an earthquake, only several times more powerful, but it stopped shortly after. Worried about the well-being of the village and its people, Isa got out of bed and looked outside her window. There, beyond the forest, in front of the rising sun, stood a tower so tall the top could not be seen. Isa left her home and started the descent into the village, but stopped at Osmond’s cottage. All the villagers had gathered and were in a panic.
“What do we do?!” a voice cried out.
“Did anyone see where it came from?” another yelled.
Osmond could be seen sitting in his favourite chair, eyes closed and nodding his head. Isa pushed her way through the crowd and approached him.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“It’s time for your ultimate adventure, my dear,” he continued, opening his eyes, “you can hear the tower calling out to you, I know it.”
She didn’t know what he was talking about, but she was eager to investigate the strange structure. Osmond gave her a wink and stood from his seat.
“All of you can relax. There’s nothing you can do about this tower and you should continue about your day as if it weren’t there. I’m sending Isa to sort things out so just be patient while you wait for her return.”
“Relax?! What if they’re violent? We should gather everyone we can and march there right now!” someone called out.
“You will do no such thing!” Osmond said.
His voice boomed throughout the air and he took on a completely different aura to the frail, old man they all knew.
“Isa is best for this job and you will all do as I say!”
It was rare for him to give commands, but when he did, there was no arguing and it was always for the best. The crowd fell silent, and one by one everyone started to make their way back down to the village to go about their day as if nothing had happened. Osmond gave a quick glance to Isa, before nodding his head in the direction of the tower and winking. She wasn’t sure what to expect to find at the tower, or why he had chosen her to investigate, but the decision had been made.

Published by Paul Schembri

I'm a writer living in Australia.

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