The forest is close, cramped, and dank. A strange mist seems to have coalesced beneath the leafless tangled mess of the canopy overhead and that dampens any sounds that might have hinted at nearby soldiers or wildlife. To be honest, it’s just plain creepy. It sort of reminds me of that Winnie-the-Pooh episode where Tiger and Rabbit get lost in the woods.
Other than the occasional flash of pain from turning my head too fast, my headache seems to have diminished greatly. I make a mental note to have someone at the Guild check it for me when we get back.
Kaede, a bounce in each step, hums happily to himself, glancing about the forest. If I weren’t drained from being hit on the head a hundred years in the past, I might think he was happy to be wandering around the creepy forest with a girl he can’t understand, looking for a plant that bursts into flames that are supposedly cursed by demons. Sometimes I wonder about my friend.
Behind me follows the pretty girl who hit me with her suitcase, Elena. She reminds me an awful lot of my great grandma, who shares the same name, and to be honest with myself, it’s not technically impossible for it to be true. My great grandparents lived in Romania during the wartime, before moving to Canada with my grandpa when he was seven years old.
I focus on the thrumming of the walking stick as I set it down with each second step. The sound ends almost instantly, making me feel like I’m trapped in some cotton filled box. I’m not scared of small spaces, but it’s still a strange feeling, not being able to hear sound reverberate around you.
I jump when Elene touches my arm with her hand, trying to get my attention.
“Your friend, the foreign boy, why does he hum so? It might attract soldiers or demons,” she whispers nervously.
“Ah, Kaede, he’s just… really happy to be out of the library. He’s been sort of shut-in for a while and couldn’t wait to get out,” I try to explain.
“Well… It’s making me nervous,” she shrugs, gripping the handle of her suitcase tightly.
“I’ll let him know,” I say with a smile. I quicken my pace to catch up with him and nearly trip over a root. Kaede stops and I barrel into him.
“Woah, dude, are you ok? You should watch where you’re going,” he grins, grabbing my arm to help me steady myself.
“Well, if you didn’t have such a spring in your step, I wouldn’t have to! Your whistling is making Elena nervous. She thinks it’ll attract the soldiers, or worse, the demons,” I explain.
“Oh pshh,” he dismisses. “There ain’t no demons. That’s an old wives tale used to scare away people from something valuable. Trust me, all those Japanese folktales, the same. Or a moral. Really, some of that stuff is freaky!”
“Great, but maybe we can hold off on the whistling?” I offer instead.
“And dampen my mood? Andi, this is the first jump I’ve ever made with you and so far I’m having a great time, even if I can’t understand the locals. This is great! It’s like an adventure, me and Andi, wandering the woods with a beautiful girl!” He wraps his arm around my shoulder and gestures with the other at the misty forest.
“Yea, and maybe I’ll leave you behind with her,” I grumble. That finally gets his attention.
“You wouldn’t!” he gasps.
“I just might. Keep whistling and we’ll find out,” I say.
“Fine, be that way, Mr. Grumpy pants.” He removes his arm from my shoulder and looks behind me at Elena. “You should ask her how much further she thinks it is. It’s going to get dark soon, I think.”
I look up at the cloudy sky above the branches and frown. He’s right. If night falls, we’ll probably have to find shelter before continuing our search in the morning, and we’ll have to keep it dark so any wandering soldiers don’t find us.
“What’s that?!” she asks, panic in her voice. I quickly look to where she’s pointing, ahead of us on the trail. Through the mist I see two reddish orbs glowing. They look like a pair of fiery eyes.
Kaede shrinks back, withdrawing behind me, towards Elena, and I shove the walking stick into his hands. “Here, take this,” I say, yanking my pocket rapier from my jeans loop and pulling off the sheath, making it grow full size.
I step towards the lights, my goal, to protect Kaede and Elena, as they don’t have any weapons. It’s unlikely to be a soldier, but a demon? I seriously doubted Elena’s folktales, but maybe Kae and I were wrong to do so.
I set my feet into a stable stance, raising my sword to be at eye level with the glowing orbs. I stare at them, trying to discern the size of the beast within the mist. Suddenly, two more blink to life to my right, and three to my left. I hear Elena shriek in fear.
Above, the clouds suddenly part and the mist retreats, revealing a forest floor dotted with purple flowering plants. As the mist pulls away, the orbs are revealed to be plants, sitting in the rays of the sun, gently burning in the light.
“Guys, I think we found the fire plants,” I call back, dropping my sword to my side.
I hear gasps of awe beside and Elena rushes forward, past me and into the forest to observe the plants.
“I knew it all along. See, no demons. Just plants that spontaneously combust in the sun,” he says.
“Sure,” I say. “Like I believe that. You’re still shaking,” I point out.
“No, I’m not! That’s the jitters of excitement of being here with you, bro!” He claps me on the shoulder, jarring my head and making it hurt. I cup my head as he whispers an apology and we start towards where Elena is crouched next to one of the burning Diaticamus plants.
“This is such a rare sight!” she exclaims. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s really real! A plant that burns! It must be a curse.”
I roughly translate what she says to Kaede and he smirks. “It’s science really,” Kaede starts. “Car explained this to me once, the sun…” He trails off, remembering his fight with Caroline.
“… Activates the oils on the surface of the plant, causing it to burst into flames. I read about it just before we left. It is pretty cool,” I muse.
“No, you’re both wrong. It’s magic! True magic! We must be careful, not to touch them. The armies, they can’t find this place either. If they do, they will surely use it in the war.”
I turn to Kaede and roll my eyes. “She still doesn’t get it…” I start, before she shrieks again, dropping her baggage on the plants and freezes. Ahead of her, in the forest, a man has his gun trained on her.
I shift my hand to lift my rapier and he moves the gun to me.
“Put the sword down, lad. I don’t want to shoot you,” he says form the trees. His voice is low, but not terribly deep. I can hardly make out his features, but from what sun makes it through the trees, I can see he’s wearing a soldiers uniform.
“Shit,” I whisper. “They are already here.” I drop the sword as if to let it fall, but sneakily grab the keychain and let it shrink out of sight. No way I’m dealing with a soldier unarmed.
He moves the gun back to Elena, who is shaking in her boots. Kaede is just plain frozen, not knowing what is being said.
“I thought there wouldn’t be guns,” he whispers, voice a little shaky.
“Where the hell did you get that idea? It’s war time here. Of course, there are guns,” I hiss back.
“Stand up and step away from the plants,” the soldier says.
“Why?” I ask. “What do you need them for?”
He trains his gun on me and I feel my blood freeze. I don’t really want to be shot again, and I don’t have the energy to force a jump. I’d rather not get hurt… again.
“Just do it,” he says.
Elena stands up, slowly, and backs away, retreating behind me.
The soldier slowly stands, approaching us, gun trained on us as he carefully treads through the brush towards the burning flower. He stops when he arrives at Elena’s suitcase, looking down at the side of it which has an engraving of her initials.
I watch intently, trying to read the situation, look for an opening, as his mouth opens with what I can only imagine is surprise and his gun dips a little. Now’s my chance.
I drop the key ring, grabbing for the hilt and step to rush him, using a little boost of magic to speed me up.
He quickly looks up as the brush rustles around me and drops the gun. “Wait!” he calls, lifting his hands.
I stop inches from his neck with my rapier. I hear a gasp from Elena, the man before me shakes.
“Wait!” he repeats.
“Why should I?” I say through gritted teeth. I don’t really want to kill anyone, but this is a war. I can tell from the uniform, he’s a Romanian soldier.
“Because! I made a mistake! Elena? Elena Sala? Is it really you?” he asks, shock painted on his face.
I turn to Elene, not dropping my stance, in case it’s a trick.
“Sorin? Is that you?” she whispers, taking a step towards him. Kaede tries to pull her back, not understanding a thing, but she brushes him off.
“Yes, it is! God, it’s been forever. I thought your family moved out months ago!” he exclaims.
“No, we tried to wait it out, but they have now. I was on my way to meet them! So, you’re not dead! I thought, I thought you might be! It’s been over a year!” she says, closing the distance between them.
I determine he won’t harm us, so I drop the sword. Elena rushes to him and they embrace, causing Kaede to sigh loudly.
“I thought you died! I’m so happy!” she cries into his shoulder, standing on her tiptoes.
“I’m made of tougher stuff than that. Oh, my dear Elena. It’s good to see you! I’m so glad you’re safe,” he smiles into her hair.
That’s when it hits me. Sorin? And Elena? I eye his uniform, catching sight of the name sewn onto his shoulder. Sorin Petran. So, it really was true. I stare in shock as my great-grandparents, though much younger than I’ve ever seen them, embrace each other.
“Well, this is awkward…” I mumble to Kaede, filling him in.
“No way?! For real? Haha, just our luck! Great adventure Andi, great choice.”
“I didn’t choose, Kae, you did.”
“That’s right!” he gloats. “Great choice Kaede, master of adventure and son of technology! Man, I should be a Guardian too,” he giggles to himself.
“Here,” Elene smiles, handing me one of her grandmother’s bowls with a Diaticumus plant in it, roots and all. The fancy porcelain is a stark contrast to the muddy mess of the plant’s roots.
“What changed your mind? About it being cursed and all,” I ask, taking the bowl.
“Well, I mean, you said you had magic. Maybe you know better than I. I made sure not to touch the leaves, just in case. You said you needed this right?” she asks, dusting her hands on her skirt.
I nod. “Yes, we do. This is a huge help.” Now I just hope Cliff doesn’t kill me for ignoring his advice.
We sit around a low burning fire, hidden in an old shack that Sorin had been hiding in the last few hours before he started trailing us through the forest. Darkness has fallen and the night is chilly. I’m thankful for the warmth of the fire.
“Elena tells me you traveled here through time for this plant,” Sorin adds, taking a bite of his rations.
“Yes, that’s right. We -” I start, but Kaede interrupts.
“I probably am getting this wrong, but I feel like he’s asking about when we’re from. Of course, it’s probably impossible for you to imagine, but a hundred years from now, you’ll all have little computers in your pockets and wars will be fought with robots and lasers. It’s great!” He grins like a fool.
“I roll my eyes. “Don’t mind him. We came here by accident really, but I didn’t want to go back empty-handed. We need this plant for an important project.”
“I see, well, my Pa was a doctor of sorts. This plant can cause burns, not only because it burns, but something to do with touching it. So, I advise caution when handling it,” Sorin explains.
“I understand. Thank you.”
“What did he say Andi?” Kaede asks. “Was it about the robots?”
“Don’t touch it or you’ll be cursed,” I lie with a grin. He pulls away from the plant and eyes it wearily.
I look down at the plant in my hands, thinking about the jump might affect it. I’ve never really taken living matter, other than Kat and Kaede, back with me. With this, I only have two more artifacts to find. More research and then, the daunting part, what to do with them to do whatever it is they’re supposed to do. Just thinking about the hours of more reading I have to do makes my head hurt.
“When will you be returning to your time?” Sorin asks.
I look up, frowning. “It might be a day or two. I’m pretty drained and my head still hurts.”
“I’m so sorry about that. Is there anything we can do to help?” Elena asks earnestly.
“Not that I can think of. It just takes time.” I turn to Kaede, ready to translate.
“Well, she did hit you, even if it was an accident. You should rest, but because your head hurts I’ll take it upon myself to keep you awake, in case your brain swells and you become a zombie or something.”
I look at him with disbelief. “I don’t think that’s how it works,” I groan.
“Sure it does. You just need to believe my friend. Anyway, Let’s get some sleep and we can figure out what to do in the morning, except, no sleeping for you. I don’t to be stuck in 1916 for all my life.”
“I can try,” I say, though my eyes are heavy and I really just want to close them. I translate my concern to Sorin and Elena and they offer to take shifts with Kaede to make sure I don’t die in my sleep.
Great, now I’m a burden to everyone… Not how I wanted this trip to turn out.
By Kayla West