I inhale and sigh deeply, glancing at my cold breath. It'll be hard getting used to "winter", but I'm sure that I can handle it-wherever I'm going.
I zip up my coal jacket vest, adjust the long sleeves of my sky blue shirt, and stare at my cargo, baggy, calves-reaching pants and short, furry boots. I guess I didn't so badly with only $40.
"Brace yourself Mia," my own pep-talk is tentative as I step into the invisible portal.
I fall flat on my chest on a pile of dead leaves. With a weak grunt, I get on my feet and explore with my eyes before I dare take a step. It looked like depressing dusk in the sky, while down below is a shallow deciduous forest with decaying leaves practically everywhere. The cool gusts that occasionally blows stirs up the leaves as I begin to maunder around.
The way my nerves are-it feels like when I entered Metropolis. Without Seth there to guide me, I was hopeless and a hideous wreck. I didn't think that was going to happen to me, but then again, I didn't think I would be whisked away-
"Aaaaaaah!" I scream as I plunge down a pit hole disguised by a pile of leaves. I breathe heavily and rub my sore behind once I crash to the pure black bottom. "Why the heck is there a hole here? Ouch."
A deep, stern voice breaks the momentary silence, "plunge into a dark abyss." The leaves in the hole turn thick-black and bind my feet to nothing. With my feet trapped in place, I try to make sense of what's going on by glancing around; I can't see the sky or the dirt surrounding me.
"Darkness," whispers the voice. More black leaves wrap themselves around my body, enabling me to move. Just as begin to think that it's the end for me, I realize that my body doesn't feel suffocated or tense. I feel-
Okay. I'm actually beginning to relax in this coat of darkness.
The leaves around me revert to its brown and yellow colors and flutter to the ground, freeing me. An eyeball, with a bright, golden crystal above its head floats in front of me.
"Uh, hello…" I ask and greet hesitantly, unsure of its response.
"You are trespassing. You plan to hurt," its bat wings flutter as it zips behind me. I raise my hands submissively, showing no intent of harm.
"I-I don't plan on h-"
Quick footsteps from above and a shout from above distract me. As a look up, a boy in his old teens, probably my age hovers over the hole. "Hey, are you alright down there?"
When my eyes fall back to the bat thing with one eye, nothing is there. "What? There was-"
"Here, grab onto my hand."
He extends his slightly hairy hand above my head. I grab it and gradually he pulls me out of the ditch.
"Thank you. I hope I didn't hurt your arm or anything."
"No way, that was nothing. What're you doing out of the village so late? You look kind of confused-do you know where you are?"
"Well then," he stands up and brushes some leaves off. "Let me lead you to the village safely, it's not that far. I'm Daniel by the way."
"My name is Mia. Please tell me everything about this place."
He chuckles heartily. "Judging by your clothes, you're not from around here. Oh I know, you're here to train right?"
"Great, I'll show you the way to-"
"Halt! You two!"
I'm the only one who jumps. Mr. Daniel rolls his eyes and steps in front of me defensively. "Michelle, relax. It's me."
A tall girl with an austere expression wearing the same boots Mr. Daniel is wearing. She brandishes her spear upon seeing us.
"Dan, why are you outside the village?" the woman named Michelle demands. "You know the rules. Who's that behind you?"
"I was just about to go back into the village, but then I heard Mia here shout. She's not from around here," he explains rationally in order to relieve her nerves.
"What business does she have here?"
"She will be undergoing training. Right?"
I nod silently. Ms. Michelle glares suspiciously, as if I came up with a story to tell Mr. Daniel.
"Are you visiting?" she asks me with intimidating blue eyes.
"In a way," I stiffly shrug.
"Stop being vague and answer the question."
"Well then, Dan, escort her to your inn."
The gate is pulled open from the inside, letting us all in. Immediately, I'm blinded by the bright light inside; I can't see anything because it's so bright. I reopen my eyes and look around the hilly village with lush grassland and no paved paths-just rocky.
"You want to meet your instructor?" Mr. Daniel asks, slightly perplexed at why I'm squinting. "The temple is empty by now. We can go there right now unless you're tired."
"The faster the better, right?"
The temple is a ten-minute walk away from the blinding village. All along the way are bright lamps to make sure I'm squinting all the way. The cyan-marble temple reaches up to the sky. Its exterior is covered in ornate designs, like a grand cathedral. Inside is a long, white marble hallway, with statues of what Mr. Daniel calls "Wisp." He pushes the curtains draping over the arch doorway and guides me to an even brighter room. In the middle are steps leading to an altar.
"Walk up to the altar and she'll appear to you," his tone is more serious and less casual. I do what he says, peering up at the stain glass windows with a will-o-wisp with colors of blue and yellow. Above my head, blue flames blend together, forming something of a human body. Her legs and arms are made of crystals, and in her blue-gassy, torso is a gleaming gem. Something about this per- spirit maybe- makes me feel warm.
"Good evening," I anxiously spit out, not knowing what to say. I'm startled to hear it talk.
"Good evening. It's not normal for me to get visits from anyone in this village at this hour," she replies in an angelic, calm tone. "I've never seen you here at the village, so I guess you're here to receive training of the Light."
"Yes I am." I bow my head slightly.
"Raise your head and open your heart."
I shut my eyes and obey her request. How do I open my heart though-ah, there's a warmth in my heart that wasn't there before. I sigh contently, putting my hand across my chest.
"Oh my, this is something I've never seen before," the female spirit remarks. "Your heart is filled with nothing-"
My muscles tighten as I hold my breath for the either devastating or fantastic news.
"-but light. Pure, bright light…that's something impossible for any human to accomplish, and yet here you are, as a human, standing in front of me with a heart filled with light."
"I want to start training right away. Are you ready for it?"
"Daniel, I guess you're her escort. Therefore, I ask you to wait for us until we're done."
"You got it! Congratulations Mia," Mr. Daniel leaves us two in the room swiftly.
"Come along then. I'll go over the basics."
"Here's your room."
It's a small, simple room, with a bed, dresser, and something of a kitchen. I step into the room, resting my bag next to the bed, and plop onto the bed with an exhausted sigh.
"I didn't think you would be so readily accepted by Wisp. It took me years to be accepted by her," Mr. Daniel remarks with an upbeat attitude. "Did you undergo some other training by other spirits?"
"Spirits? Don't you know them?"
I shake my head. "Uh, I'm from a very, very faraway place. I've never heard of any-"
Mr. Daniel gasps and sits down next me eagerly. "In this world, there-actually, I'll fill you in tomorrow morning. You're probably exhausted right now."
I yawn and nod. He heads to the door. "Good night. FYI, most of the villagers train in the morning. We don't stay out late because…"
I'm too tired to keep listening. When he eventually closes the door, I shut the lights off and start to drift off to sleep immediately. Suddenly, the door is slammed opened by Mr. Daniel, who rushes in to turn on the two lamps I just turned off.
"What, what happened?" I jump out of bed, interpreting Mr. Daniel's horrified expression.
"You-" he stammers and looks at me as if I murdered someone "-turned off…the lights. You should know to never turn off the lights! Are you a Shade worshipper?"
Flustered and confused, I cry out, "I don't know what that is!"
He shakes his head as if I'm a hopeless puppy. "I'll explain tomorrow, but keep the lights on!"
He departs again as I climb back into bed and try to go back to sleep again. It's so much harder to sleep with the lights on, how do all of these people do it? This place is so strange.
At dawn, hours later, someone knocks. I'm so used to be the one who wakes up the earliest, it's unsettling to hear a knock on the door this early.
"Coming!" I say to the person at the door as I slide my pants on. I open the door and Mr. Daniel smiles.
"Mornin'," he rushes into my room. "There's so much I have to explain to you, 'cuz last night you gave me a heart attack."
"Sorry about that." I thought that was something generally done by everyone. I guess I was wrong.
"Ok, there are all kinds of spirits. There's Salamander, spirit of the flames, Gnome, the earth, Dryad, wood, Luna of the moon, Jinn of air, Wisp of the Light and Shade of the Darkness. They are all born from the Mana Goddess, which is something you probably know already. Shade, the spirit of darkness, is a mistake; when the world was young and humans roamed the world, they became greedy and selfish for Mana power. The Darkness in their hearts corrupted the Goddess and that's how Shade was created. Ironically, those spirits live next to us, Celestial Village, and if we leave the lights off, they will come into our homes and corrupt our hearts with Darkness, turning us into monsters. That's why we can't leave the village after six and why we got in trouble yesterday. You were almost attacked yesterday by Shade when I came to help-it's really important for you not to come in contact with Shade."
Nonstop training all day long is so tiring. I see why everyone goes to bed at six o' clock-everyone wants to get stuff done before dark. I was never really afraid of the dark, so this will be an adjustment.
Abruptly, something snatches my arm. I look up to see Michele's scowl.
"Traveler, I saw your room had the lights off last night for seconds. That's a violation of the law," she explains coldly while yanking me towards the gate.
"I'm sorry," I frantically apologize, too tired to struggle. "I didn't know-Mr. Daniel only explained it to me this morning."
"I don't want to hear your petty excuses. Your wrongdoing almost gave Shade an opening to enter the village." She releases my arm when we're deep in the Dark Forest. "Spend some time in the forest where Shade will punish you by turning you into a monster."
Michele turns and hastily returns to her spot. I find a tree to sit under and rub my arms and knees. Just when I thought things were going pretty well for me, this has to happen. I expected the forest to be scarier, but it's just eerily silent.
If Seth were here, he'd make sure that I was okay. That boy, Nate said that he kept going on about me-does that mean he misses me as much as I do? Our friendship is something that I still believe in. I just never would have thought I would be in another world without you Seth.
"Prepare to suffer, human," the deep, ominous voice I remember from yesterday startles me. I skip to my feet and look around in all directions.
"You're that spirit that attacked me last night," I affirm to him. "Are you-Shade?"
Where is he, I still can't see him! "Why do you want to hurt me?"
"I can see the fear written on your face. Fear leads to impulse, I know that you, like the rest of the humans here want to hurt me," surmises the invisible voice.
"No, you're wrong! That's the last thing I want to do," I frantically say, while staring up at the trees.
"Let's see if you are lying or not."
Something cold passes through my chest, making me gasp for air. It doesn't feel like the way Master Wisp did, but it's not discomforting either.
"Interesting," the voice continues. I spin around and drop my mouth in astonishment at seeing the flying eye. He probably senses the Light within me-what happens, now that he might have defiled my light? Am I going to turn evil now?
"I cannot sense a glimmer of light."
"Wha-?" Master Wisp told me that I had nothing but light. Could she have been lying? No, she probably would have told me about the lack of light within me.
"You have a heart filled with Darkness," he reaffirms in a relaxed manner. "That is why you were unaffected by my attack. With that darkness, you could be a monster disguising yourself as a human."
"N-o, not at all. I'm completely human, nothing monstrous or sinister." He says my heart is filled with darkness when Master Wisp said I was "bathed in glorious light". Who do I believe?
"That's impossible for anyone. Yet, you mimic the manners of a maiden of the Light."
Shade hasn't done anything to me. I don't feel evil or like a monster-does that mean that being in contact with Shade is ok? Maybe Mr. Daniel is-misunderstanding him?
"Something tells me you're not evil. The villagers said you were-"
"Darkness does not mean evil. All spirits can lend their powers to heroes or villains, more villains desire my power. However, I do bestow my power to heroes in need of it."
"But one of the villagers told me that, excuse my bluntness, that you brought evil into the world."
"They brought their own vile darkness into the world. Those villagers refuse to look at the darkness in their own hearts and accept it. You on the other hand must have accepted it, which was only achieved by one other mortal."
"Traveler!" Michele's voice booms throughout the forest. "If you are alive, answer me now."
When I turn to face Shade, he's gone without a trace. I look towards Michele's direction and call out, "I'm still here."
"Return to the gate at once before I leave you out there for the rest of the day."
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