The North Wind – Part 4
“That’s not possible,” said Sayrin, unable to keep her eyes off the shore, “They’ve never—”
“Wait, it’s slowing down!” Hana pointed as the Joondin struggled to take another step. Every second it slowed, pain smeared across its face as if it walked through fire instead of water. “As well as it should,” snapped Sayrin, though with a touch of remorse in her voice.
“That means the village is still safe.”
A white streak darted over the trees. Hana squinted, almost making it out before it disappeared again. A split second later, the Ghost dove forward. He smacked into the black creature and knocking it to the ground. Hana covered her ears as the screams rose in response.
The Ghost slunk his outstretched hands into the neck of one of the Joondin, his fingers sinking straight through his flesh. The Joondin flailed like a wounded animal, but its limbs only sank through air. Even from a distance, Hana saw the vibrant white fire glimmering in the Ghost’s eyes. He clasped its fingers into a fist, and the Joondin’s mouth fell agape as the light died in its eyes. It slunk to the ground, immersed and motionless in the golden sand. With a snarl, the Ghost leaped back into the air, barreling for the Joondin in the water.
“Looks like it’s got it covered,” remarked Sayrin without slacking her pace, “Up ahead this way, girl. It’s getting ugly.”
Hana covered her mouth to keep from vomiting. The cries never faded as they pulled out into the open sea, and the mists fell over them. One of the Joondin’s horns fled over the waters. Then the earth became silent save for the current under Sayrin’s rickety canoe. Hana shook her head, unable to believe what had happened. She tried to speak, but no sound came out. But she now wanted to get home more than ever.
“I need to go home,” she managed to say.
“I know you do,” answered Sayrin. For once, her voice was soft as the waves lengthened and the foamy water took on a greenish hue.
“When we get to—wherever we’re going,” Hana gripped the side of the canoe, “I can make it home from here. Real time is passing, and people are going to start wondering where I am. I can figure it out—”
“This is beyond any power of mine—or my opinion,” said Sayrin as she steered the canoe to the right. “I’m only doing what the Posdin says.”
“I don’t need him or the North Wind!” Hana scowled, losing patience, “If I concentrate, I can—”
The green water shifted, swirling to the side. It grew larger until a whirlpool started forming in front of them. “Sayrin!” Hana cried. But Sayrin only jerked the canoe further to the right and waited, eyes steady.
A large splash of indigo appeared and grew in front of them. The canoe whirled toward it, and Hana discovered a column of black, leading them into nothing. She shut her eyes and dug her nails into the canoe’s side as it dipped forward. But to her surprise, the canoe twirled off into the air and floated downward, light as a feather. The pillared walls of water grew before arching over their heads, swallowing them up. Above, shades of pink and lavender from the evening sky bled through the water.
As Hana gazed below, flecks of orange light emerged from the darkness. “Is that your village down below?” she asked in awe, “What’s it called?”
“We call it Setton. Humans might call it the same.”
Hana furrowed her brows, “How do you know so much about humans anyway?”
“We have to. It’s our job to understand humans—partly, that is. I’ve been one of the lucky ones to have seen humans, so I could tell where you came from. Aha!”
Something behind Hana chirped like one of the birds in the forest. The Ghost hovered beside the canoe, worn but smiling.
“Well, what of it then? Are they gone?”
The Ghost nodded.
“Good,” Sayrin growled, “We’re meeting the Posdin after docking. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll come along since it seems you had something to do with this.” As Sayrin grumbled, flashes of rickety white boards appeared. They reminded Hana of the decks that encircled the reedy lakes back home. Hana swallowed the lump in her throat.
Sayrin yanked out a rope and tossed it onto the nearest post. The canoe drifted to the deck, and Sayrin leaped out, a grim look on her face.
“This way,” she marched along a flight of wooden stairs, leading Hana deeper into the blue.
The further along they traveled, the more staircases appeared. They split into more and more routes that led to open platforms holding clusters of tiny shacks. Heavy, humid air dampened Hana’s curls. The boards creaked under her with every step she took, but none of them wavered as they walked.
“Where is everyone?” Hana couldn’t help whispering. Every step they took resembled clock tower bells chiming.
“Further below. But remember, we haven’t seen a human in person before,” Sayrin leaned over and unlocked the gate in front of her, “This way.”
“Won’t it be a problem that I’m human?”
“Not in the slightest. Here, turn right.” Sayrin led Hana through a railed alley lined by houses on both sides. People huddled in heavy black, and gray cloaks peered out of their houses and stalls and stared. Others who resembled blacksmiths quit hammering at the white metal sheets in their ungloved hands. They watched Hana as she followed Sayrin further into town. Hana kept her eyes on the ground, wishing she could do what she had done earlier to go back home.
In the heart of Setton, wooden buildings swathed in blue sat on top of each other in an open circle, stairs bridged among them. Indigo and lilac sheets swung in the damp air across the railings. The sounds of metal clanking, bells chiming, and hammers battering almost drowned out Sayrin’s voice as she pointed to an open area ahead.
Hana hurried into the stone town square as fast as she could. People dropped their rolls of fabric, smiles on their creased faces. A few children in oversized coats stopped in their tracks and pointed. One blacksmith, frozen with overwhelmed surprise, dropped his silver hammer. He didn’t notice when it slipped through the cracks, plummeting hundreds of feet into the water.
Sayrin bustled into a squat building with no walls and a violet-dyed thatched roof. A sharp orange candlelight led them toward another spiral staircase. The Ghost, who hadn’t lost his smile, dove ahead of them.
“Posdin!” called Sayrin, trudging down the steep stairs, “Fri Posdin! I’ve brought the girl as you said.”
“Ah, it’s you! What news from Humanity?” a husky voice spoke from below. Hana sensed he talked to the Ghost from the lack of an answer.
“I came to the Library as soon as I could. Meet any trouble?” the voice directed itself upward.
“Well, yes, but nothing—”
A stack of books plummeted onto the floor at the foot of the stairs. A moment later, a loose-fitting boot heaved over them, and a calloused red hand grasped at the books. “I need to move this stack,” muttered the Posdin. He jerked his sunken face toward Hana, who stood awkwardly a few steps above Sayrin.
“So, that’s what a human looks like, eh?” He smiled, showing his square white teeth.
“Posdin,” cut in Sayrin, “We had to hurry. We came upon a group of —”
“I guessed as much,” the Posdin swept the books back into a stack, straightened up, then gave a tug at his lank white hair. “Ino here told me everything. Come further into the Library here, both of you. I’ve been trying to contact the North Wind, the Great Night—all of them, and I haven’t heard so much as a whisper!” The Posdin inched around more and more books that seemed to sprout from the slats in the candlelit walls. He stuffed himself behind a desk loaded with papers that glimmered like moonlight.
“I have, however, heard from the Old One, and he wanted to arrive in person as quickly as possible. Indeed, he was against taking you all the way to the North Wind, but I insisted that it was the only—”
“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted Hana, more blunt than she intended. “Not to be rude, but you don’t have to contact whoever the North Wind is. Trust me. I’ve almost figured out how to travel back to my world. I can figure out how to stay there, and then I’ll be out of the way.”
“Hana, it’s not that simple.”
“She’s right,” the Posdin sighed, “Something bigger than us is afoot. Someone skillful in the Great Arts had something to do with this.”
“But what are the Great Arts, and what do they have to do with me?” cried Hana, losing patience, “And who is the North Wind? Why should I get his advice?”
The Posdin set blue-framed spectacles onto his nose with a placid frown.
“Child, there are a few things you should understand,” he said. “Here in the Denfyron, a variety of Beings govern us, creatures who have no livelihood in your world. The North Wind is the oldest and wisest of them all. The First, in fact. He was the one who introduced the Great Arts to us, the laws of this world that we live by and practice. They act like the natural laws of your world that you practice. As one of the correspondents between kingdoms, I’m lucky to speak with him about important matters, even from tiny Setton. If anyone would know how any of the Great Arts have been used to bring you here and why you’ve seen the Pillars, he would.”
Hana tried to process everything she had heard. She stuttered, trying to respond, “But does it matter if I can go home and not come back?”
The Posdin picked up a sleek blue quill and began writing on a floating piece of worn parchment. Sayrin sat down in a lighted nook surrounded by books and pulled a pipe out of her pocket.
“Listen, Hana,” she sighed, “You’re tied to this world now. Whatever control you think you’re gaining of transporting from one world to the next doesn’t exist. I’ve told you—your connection here is unstable. If you go back home, you aren’t likely to stay long. And seeing those pillars is a bad sign as any.” Sayrin jabbed her pipe at the Ghost, who had settled on one of the dusty shelf tops.
“You mentioned this one followed you?”
“Yeah,” Hana scowled, “I had to hide in a broom closet.”
The Posdin chuckled. “Well, they have a sense about them,” he stood up. “Know where their Human needs to be even if neither party knows where that is themselves. It led you right to where Sayrin would be, despite taking liberties in showing itself.” He eyed the Ghost, who smiled at Hana.
“Now, regarding the Pillars—”
Hana’s vision became blurry. A sudden flash of orange followed by a white shaft of light over her head almost blinded her as a stale wind careened across her back. Her insides twisted as the ground flew away from her feet, and the sensation of falling gripped her. Too scared to scream, Hana braced herself, eyes wild in terror.
A split second later, she slammed into a pile of amber sand. Dazed, Hana blinked away the flecks of light raining down on her and checked for anything broken. Sitting up, Hana gazed around her.
In every direction, hot orange desert greeted her.