The North Wind (Part 3)
Sayrin dashed over the worn dirt paths faster than Hana expected. Hana followed, her arm aching by how hard Sayrin gripped it. Every few minutes another horn sounded, wailing through the trees. “These paths aren’t used very often,” huffed Sayrin, “I know them in and out. As long as we can keep them off our trail we can avoid them and get to the Posdin.”
“What do they want? Why are they here?”
“Who knows what they want!” snapped Sayrin as she ducked under a low-hanging branch, “Follow me, and—”
“How many are there?” Hana shuddered as another horn blasted. Sayrin let go of her to jump over a narrow brook in front of them.
“I can’t tell, only that (hurry up, girl!) there’s at least three.” Sayrin flapped her arms as if it would make Hana jump faster. Hana stared down at the water, measuring how deep it was with her eyes before taking a deep breath.
“Come on! They’re coming!”
Hana positioned herself to jump. She felt her feet leave the ground and the cold breeze on her face. But as she jumped, time seemed to slow down. White light flooded around Hana’s eyes, blinding her. The air went stale as she hung suspended in the open air.
Hana gritted her teeth as the whiteness tore away, and the features of the world came rushing back. The rushing river and golden leaves disappeared and left the tiled school staircase looming under her. Hana flailed as she jumped from the top step and plummeted to the far wall.
Pain stabbed through her feet and ankles as she landed on the second to last step. With a scream, Hana tripped off the staircase and into the wall, slamming her shoulder into the brick. She slunk onto the floor, pain radiating through her body. For a while, she lay there stunned. One of the fluorescent lights flickered above her. Several students a floor below her came out of their classrooms, jostling each other, their sneakers squeaking. Hana fought the throbbing in her shoulder and legs and took in deep gasps.
A bang clapped over her head. The wall she leaned against disappeared, and Hana dropped back onto a chill, seamless floor. A wide swath of yellow stretching on and on into oblivion greeted her, along with a soft clicking sound.
Hana jerked herself upright. “Sayrin!” She pulled herself to her feet. Everywhere she looked, she saw the same dull yellow, ending only in a thin strip of black along the horizon. The clicking grew louder, and when Hana turned around, she found the same two pillars staring back at her. They stood so far away, they only appeared as minute specks. But they were close enough for Hana to know what they were.
They both cast filmy gray shadows that spread unnaturally far. The clicking grew louder, emanating from somewhere either ahead or behind her. Hana swallowed. A sinking feeling settled in her stomach. She hadn’t felt so alone before, not since Marcus disappeared. And now she was lost from both worlds and left with nothing.
“Sayrin?” she called again, hoping to see her emerge from somewhere like she had the last time. Hoping for anything or anyone.
The floor drifted, pulling her forward without effort, like a mist passing through trees. Hana watched as the pillars came closer and the clicking turned into a whir. She covered her ears. The pillars stood about half a mile now, golden and slanted as they loomed over her. The whir pierced through her hands and hung in her mind. Hana cowered as the world trembled and the whir grew into a shriek she couldn’t describe.
“Hana, get up! Get up, girl, get up!”
Hana opened her eyes as the screaming disappeared. A sea of golden red and cool dirt on her face met her. Hana sat up on the grass, a few feet away from the brook she had jumped. Crickets began chirping as the evening faded into night. Sayrin stood over her with hands on her hips.
“I don’t have to help you, you know!” she said with a scowl. Another horn called, closer than before.
“I saw the pillars again!”
A horn came out of the east at a higher pitch. Sayrin grabbed at Hana’s arm again to help pull her up. “I don’t know what this is about,” she barked, “But the sooner we get to the Posdin the better. And I can get out of this mess!”
“But I went back to my world!” shouted Hana as she scrambled up and marched after Sayrin. “If I could find a way to get back and stay there—”
“If someone summoned you here, and it had to do with the Great Arts, you have no control over it!” Sayrin took a sharp turn to the left, down a sloping hill dotted with trees. “And you going back and forth means the summons is still very unstable! Now come! The Posdin will know more than me!”
Hana heard the higher pitched blast come again from further away. “Where’s the Ghost?” the thought appeared to her out of nowhere.
“It can take care of itself. Now come!”
Sayrin disappeared behind a sleek white tree with looping branches. Hana darted after her and almost slipped on the smooth rocks that took the place of the patchy grasses. A deep, narrow ravine with thundering, foamy waters spread out before her. It filled the air with a sweet scent and heavy mist that blew over her. Sayrin shuffled down a little path that wound its way through the steep cliff walls. Hana caught up as her head disappeared.
“Hurry up! I have a canoe down here. We can take that!”
Hana slid down the path, her back against the wall and her heart in her throat. Jagged rocks stuck out from the violent rapids, and the white foam rushed down toward what looked like waterfalls.
“Are—Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure! Now come on!”
Hana inched along the slippery path until she reached the opposite end of the gorge. Here, the rocks dropped down at a steep angle in front of her, sheer empty sides both ways, like a staircase hanging off a building. To Hana’s dismay, Sayrin gripped the makeshift railing nailed into the path ahead and began climbing down.
“You’ll slip off!”
“I’ve done this enough times! Grab the railing and try not to slip,” Sayrin shouted over the waves. “The canoe is below!”
Hana clutched the flimsy tree trunk that made up the railing and tried not to vomit. She prayed that she wouldn’t tumble back into her world like she had when she jumped the ravine. For a moment, she thought of turning back, finding another way to get to the canoe. But an animal-like screech piercing the air from behind startled her forward.
Hana noticed small grooves in the rock that must have been steps. She did her best to keep her feet on them, her fingers aching from the grip she held on the branch railing. Sayrin marched further and further ahead, into a clustered black forest of rocks.
Hana glanced back to check where the scream had come from, but nothing emerged from the wavering sea of leaves. Then through the golden trees, something dark twitched between the branches. Hana gasped, almost slipped, caught herself, and hurried as best she could to the canoe. Sayrin waited for her, shouting something and waving the oar in her hand. Hana gulped, trying to keep from looking over the sides as she neared the end of the pathway.
Come on. You can do it. You can do it. It’s not that—
Hana’s heart leaped back into her throat when she spotted some of the spiked rocks below. Sayrin’s voice grew louder. Hana strained to her.
“It’s coming! Hana, it’s coming! Hurry!”
Hana only had a few more yards. She looked back again. A tall, broad-shouldered form stood among the trees, watching her. Its white eyes shone so brightly Hana could make them out from where she stood. The figure appeared human otherwise, but still distorted somehow.
The sharp tone in Sayrin’s shriek gave Hana the final push to scuttle down the rest of the way and reach the canoe. Sayrin reached out to her with her oar. Hana breathed a sigh of relief, grabbing onto the oar and crashing in.
“What is that up there?” Hana asked as soon as she righted herself. She grasped the side of the canoe as Sayrin pushed off and tumbled down the rapids with surprising skill.
“That’s one of the Joondin, and that’s why I told you to hurry up!”
“But it looks like—”
“Trust me,” Sayrin transferred the oar to the opposite side of the canoe and pushed off a nearby rock. They lurched to the left, heading down at a steeper angle before the gorge opened up and the trees fell away. The rushing water grew quiet, and Hana heard another horn blast call at a higher pitch. The figure inched through the trees, watching, before slinking back where it came from. As the water calmed, Sayrin added, “They were once people. And in a way they still are.”
Hana loosened her grip on the canoe as Sayrin paddled forward. “What do you mean?”
Sayrin’s mouth spread into a thin line. “I’m taking you to my village. We’re going to stop there and contact the Posdin. He’ll come to us. It’s just better to stay in the water for now.” She stabbed the oar into the water.
“Are they possessed or something like that?” asked Hana, “I’ve heard about stuff like that in my world.”
“I guess you could say that…. But Hana, you’re going to have to blend in with me. As long as they think you’re one of the Denfryon and not human, they won’t take a special interest. They like to hunt toward the North and East, but sometimes they migrate here. They look for—”
A call rippled through the water. Hana looked back at the thinning shoreline. Several black figures crawled down the steep cliff and stepped onto the shoreline. Half of them held thin, oblique horns at their sides. One of them raised its horn and blasted the call again as if gathering more to it and the others. Another raised its hand to call. It sounded like a strangled scream.
Hana covered her ears. “They won’t get into the water,” sighed Sayrin, “They can’t—”
“Look!” Hana pointed. Sayrin thrust the oar into the water and paddled faster.
One of the Joondin dropped the horn it carried into the golden sand. Hana watched as it stepped into the water.