Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 34

Red Winning Entry

Alys had at first been resistant to Erika’s suggestion that she visit the palace gardens, but now that she was here, strolling peaceably through the manicured overgrowth with the warm colors of dusk turning the world a deep violet-red about her, she couldn’t recall ever wanting to spend her evening indoors.

Since her arrival to Kingdom Village a week before, the Kirui had kept mostly to her cloistered study behind Erika’s bakery; it was comfortable there, and quiet, the conversations held between customers a room over no more intrusive than ambience. And, as Erika’s esteemed guest -- her friend, really -- she’d the benefit of complimentary pastries whenever she wished.

Indeed was hers a welcome environment, much… calmer than Inferno Terrain, that dismal place of ash and brimstone, where the air tainted your very breath and lava remained an incessant scourge. If she tried hard enough, Alys could remember the place, remember the crumbly house she’d raised herself in.

But Alys hardly wanted to remember that. Why should she? It was behind her now, its oak-built frame hazy to the recollection, and she had a new home, anyhow. A much nicer home, with her own long bed and a shelf for all the books she’d borrowed from the library. Besides, memories of the Inferno Terrain were fading further each passing day. She only had to look around her new home at the Village to remind herself that she was making new memories. Better memories.

And the gardens were as good a place as any to start making them. Erika often said that plants were what made Kingdom Village a worthy host to her business, and that every tourist must certainly visit the gardens on available occasion; and until now, Alys had been hard-pressed to take the words for more than chatter. But staring at the blissful sky, cast the same pastel-stain as the full-leaved cherry trees lining the walkway, she found herself awing at the verdant world about her. The gardens were, she rather thought, pretty much in the way an oil portrait was pretty; as if it were art, she found herself looking about, needing to discern the hidden details, the trenchant sleight of hand.

She'd only begun to inspect the cherry trees further when the first wave of… feeling struck. It was like a packet of fear had burst open in her chest, setting her heart to thrumming, her head to swimming, and she nearly stumbled in her step for the sudden disorientation clogging her thought. She forced a breath, looking about wildly, and saw only blossoms, pink and white and falling, falling...

Stop it, she told herself, trying hard to focus her attention on something other than the cherry orchard. What had happened to the serenity she'd felt a moment before? Why was her happiness falling apart so suddenly -- and why could she feel it so heartily?

She forced herself to stare down at the ground. Nice ground, packed richly with dirt and interspersed by curling grass. A ground worthy of protracted attention, yes. Looking at the trees would only dredge up stupid memories, or at the least hasten their coming, so Alys kept her strides unbroken, her gaze strictly schooled on the path ahead. She was almost to the point where Erika had arranged to meet her; certainly seeing a friend would smooth her sudden fret.

But awareness of her own flowers, which clung now to her horns in tight-curled buds, came creeping, as she hastened her step, to touch her thoughts like an inexorable foe. She made her way forward, attempting in earnest to regain some considerable sturdiness of mind, Oh, Alys, you should've known better than to come. You should have known there'd be flowers here.

Thinking of flowers recalled the unbidden past. As a child, she'd heard it said many times that one day the buds poking up in spirals about the sleek oak crown above her brow would burst forth in color and perfume. And she'd believed every word of the promise. But as she'd grown up, grown big and stout and smart as her brothers, the buds failed to grow with her. When she was twelve and they'd not shown even the slightest touch of growth, her parents had chuckled, called her a late blossom, and set aside the matter for another year. But as the years passed and the late blossom became a no blossom, the hopeful praise melted slowly to something of muted disappointment.

She'd left before it got any worse, and ended up smoldering away in the Terrain. Since then she'd not thought to consider her stunt, her perceived strangeness at being the only Kirui in her household without a luscious adornment of flower-blooms on the head. She'd not needed to, for in the land of fire and smoke there were no plants but those lost and forlorn, and it was easy to forget that green was even a color.

“Alys! Is that you?”

A moment passed, as Alys struggled to recall that faint, familiar voice. She couldn't see anyone when she peered timidly ahead, but by now she'd left the orchard behind for a veranda of close-clipped hedges. She whispered silent praises “Erika?” she guessed finally, her voice nearly cracking with bubbling relief. “Oh, Erika, you've come at just a fine moment!”

“I have?” A rustling sound, and then the Tarinooki dropped down from a branch heavy with green leaf to land directly before Alys, who nearly shouted for the shock of the landing.

When she saw the teasing glimmer in her friend’s eye, she actually did shout, because if she didn't shout she'd surely cry. But then she said, “Yes. You did. I was just wanting to talk to you about something.”

“What is it?” The glimmer had shriveled, and Erika’s smile twitched, threatening to droop into something dangerous.

Alys breathed. It was such a simple act, yet felt to her as powerfully cleansing as the great wide ocean. Erika was here, she was here… and she would listen, friend’s honor. No matter how big a secret Alys had to tell. “

You see those cherry trees behind me?” she said finally. She didn't have to gesture; it would be much to difficult for her to confess what she wanted to confess that way. Too difficult for her to admit she needed help, needed to talk to someone who would supply the right response. “Well, I was walking, just like you recommended, and I started thinking, there's a lot I've yet to tell folks…”