With the darkness comes the terror. In those not-so peaceful times, I was becoming desperate, lost in the wilderness while the sun was setting on the horizon. There were no traces of human life nearby. Not a earthen road, not a man-made clearing. Just trees and trees. And more trees. My feet were sore of walking, but I arrived nowhere. Maybe I was walking in circles. Maybe my mind had gone wandering off. Maybe I had already died.
No, that I was certain I wasn't. Dead people can't be scared of dying. But I still felt chills running down my spine at each noise, at each crack of a small branch under my feet, at the low hiss of rustling leaves. Damn, I got lost and I was tired of walking in circles and fighting beasts on my way. Taking that trip was the greatest mistake in my life. I expected to reach Minea before noon following the directions given by that old man, but I've just been such a fool to believe it would be enough. I've lost the count of the number of times I've passed by the same lake again. And again. I had already given up the hopes of reaching my destination, or finding my way back to Zepik, the last village I've visited. All I wanted was to find a safe place to rest for the night. My hands could barely keep holding my short sword, and I don't think I'd be able to raise my arms again to strike any beast that crossed my path. The problem was that there was no such safe place. The best I could do was to climb a tree and hope no beast noticed me over there. The caves in the mountains were clearly out of question because I've tried to take refuge in one and I've almost found perpetual rest in the claws of the powerful creatures living inside.
The night had fallen; the cloudless starry sky over my head overwhelmed my tiny and hopeless soul. The chilly breeze made me shiver. What would be otherwise a pleasant night had become my personal hell. Then, as a miracle, or a mirage, I've noticed a dark dot on the southwestern horizon. It could have been anything, but my weary heart longed for safety, for comfort, in a warm bed, so I started moving towards that dot.
I had spent years traveling, by sea, and now by land. I've seen many beautiful places, met people, but they were now just faint memories lost inside my mind. For most of the time, however, it had been loneliness. I haven't found what I was looking for. In fact, I don't even know if I was looking for something or not. However, the last time I've caught the glimpse of the white and soft sands resting for unaccountable eons down by the sea, under the pale blue sky, my heart called for a change. I screamed my lungs out that I wanted to be free. I was feeling like a prisoner in that ship and my companions thought I had gone mad, so they cast me away on those unknown lands.
And I'm glad they did. In a moment, I felt the urge of settling down. I had realized I have been lonely all that time, searching a dream that didn't exist, traveling to the wrong side of the rainbow. In all those years, I didn't get anything. Some gold coins, maybe, but nothing more. No friends. No family. No love. No meaning for my own life. It wasn't too late to start from the scratch. And I was determined to find a place where I knew no one, and no one knew me, so I could start a brand-new life.
Unfortunately, I've chosen the worst place in the world for that. The continent was rather empty, and there were beasts and evil creatures all around. After walking for days, alone, fighting beasts and starving, I finally came across a small village. However, the village was in such a bad state that I was advised to look for that Minea city. And that is why I was there, lost in the woods, looking for my promised land.
As a heavenly blessing, the dark dot in the horizon was neither a giant evil golem, nor more woods. As I walked steadily towards it, the dot became larger, and now it looked like a large structure. I had to take some detours to avoid some evil creatures on my way, but every step towards that structure renewed my hopes. And I can't even tell how rejoiced I were when I finally distinguished the outline of large stone walls. If it was Minea or not, I didn't care, as long as I could find some food and shelter from the night, before the evil creatures killed me. With my heart pounding inside my chest, I ran recklessly towards the walls foolishly becoming exposed to the unnecessary dangers. But my mind was on the brink, and I was almost breaking down, so I didn't even care. With a small pack of creatures following me, I arrived at the gates of the city.
The guards, seeing that I was a human, admitted me, and then proceeded to inquire me about my origins, my intentions, et cetera. I wasn't much disturbed for the questions because, given the state of things outside, it was more than expected that the guards would increase the security levels. It didn't help me that, after many days wandering in the woods, fighting evil creatures, I was left in a deplorable state that rendered me even more suspicious. However, either my persuasion skills worked, or I had just been lucky, but they ended admitting me into the city without too much harassing.
So that was Minea. An impressive town, surrounded by solid stone walls, could be described with just one word: safe. It was more than that, obviously, but its main asset was the safety it provided to its citizens during the difficult times we were living in. While Zepik village was just an impoverished encircling of huts, Minea thrived, plenty of shops and commercial buildings. The avenues were large, the grass perfectly trimmed, the streets well-lit even at late night. There were people everywhere, no traces of fear in their countenances. Definitely, Minea was a welcoming city.
My most immediate concert was to find a place to rest, and something warm to cram down my throat and free me from that inner pain that consumed me in the last few days. I started looking for an Inn, desperately. Although I had just a few coins with me, maybe they would admit me on humanitarian grounds. It was clear as crystal that I needed some help, and I just needed to cross my paths with a charitable soul. If nothing worked, I'd beg some leftovers in a pub, and then sleep under a tree, waiting for the new day. I know it was not the best start for a new life, but we all need to swallow or pride sometimes, and do some things considered humiliating in order to achieve a greater goal. With the brand-new day, brand-new hopes would come, and my hopes were naturally high. I just needed to regain my strength. I was no bum, and the first thing I'd do early in the morning was to look for an occupation.
Something, though, changed completely my plans for the night. I started listening to a faint melody at the distance, and it immediately grabbed my attention. The hypnotic tune entered my ears and washed my heart with strong emotions. I was driven to the outskirts of the town, seeking the source of that tune instinctively. It looked like I was lured into a trap, walking through darker and darker alleys. Like a sailor under the spell of a singing mermaid who jumps overboard just to meet his end in the cold waters of the vast ocean, I was blindly putting my own existence in jeopardy because of that mesmerizing tune. I wanted to go back, but I couldn't. The hypnotic tune took possession of my soul, and I lost all my free will.
My heart was throbbing faster and faster on my chest, and I felt my legs weak. It was fear. That ancient fear of an inevitable death. That instinctive fear of being unable to either hit or run in a dangerous situation. It was like those nightmares when we lose the control of our own bodies, being unable to move or becoming blind, just to be victim of a life-threatening danger, and ultimately dying. And I was feeling like I would die. Yet, I couldn't stop moving towards the source of that siren chant.
It grew louder and louder in my ears, and the feeling of imminent death became stronger. I started repenting my sins, praying for mercy, lamenting my wasted years. I had not done anything important, I had not left my mark in the world, I had not even felt what is to be loved by someone. I had wasted all my life looking for adventures, pleasures, freedom, glory, and richness. And I forgot the really meaningful things. In that slow death march, I realized that I would die and, ten minutes later, I would mean nothing. It would be as if I had never lived.
Then, at the end of the dark alley, I met my executioner. A small figure hidden under a brown hooded cloak, pale white hands, and a silver harmonica in its mouth. It was death itself, playing a demonic tune to catch hold of my soul. So my time had really come, and the irresistible pull had a reason. It meant that I was just hallucinating. Probably I've never made to Minea safely. It was just my mind working its mysteries and my body expiring, probably under the claws or the jaws of an evil creature. My dying brain resorted to the traditional image of the skeletal death, and I could see its bone fingers holding the metallic instrument. Soon I would feel the touch of its sickle in my forehead, and my soul would be reaped straight to the depths of hell.
As I drew near that mysterious figure, I noticed that it weren't bones, but the hands were real, delicate, and feminine, with crimson nails. Besides, there were beautiful blue hair threads hanging out of the hood. What would a woman be doing in that dark alley, late at night, playing a harmonica? That had to be another delirium from my mind. My heart was almost bursting in agony inside my chest and I felt like blackening out.
In a moment, however, everything returned to normal. My heart gradually calmed down, and I regained control of my senses. The situation, though, was unchanged. The mysterious woman, seated on a stone platform, kept playing her harmonica. She seemed to be unaware of my presence there. Silently, I gradually lowered the distance between us, until I was almost face-to-face with her. I was staring blankly at the woman, just listening to her tune.
Then, she suddenly stopped playing, and noticed my presence. As she tilted her head up, I noticed an expression of fear in her angelic face. She was scared by my presence. I stared deeply into her pale blue eyes, and they were reflecting her terror. I can`t blame her, though, because such a pretty young woman, probably the prettiest woman in the whole world, would not feel comfortable facing a man in the state I was. After months voyaging through the seas, my hair and beard were long, dirt, and tangled. And, after days of starvation and battles in the woods, my clothes were ragged and soaked in blood, and my countenance showed despair. I was looking like a mad man who had just killed someone. It is true that inside that thick cloak, she looked like a beggar as well, but that angel-faced girl had all the reasons for being scared as she realized she had been cornered against the walls, in a dark and distant alley, from where no one would hear her cries of help if she needed someone to save her.
The pretty blue-haired woman stayed in state of shock for some moments, then panicked. Scared by her sudden reaction, I grabbed her wrists with disproportional strength, making her panic even more, and she let her harmonica fall. Then, she let out a scream of fear that almost made my heart stop, and started trying to struggle her way out of my firm grasp. I can`t tell what had driven me to hold her, but I did, and we struggled for some time. I didn`t really want to hurt her, and if I did, I would have threatened her with my short sword, but something out of my understanding instinctively made me not let her go free.
The girl jumped from the platform she was seated in, and started pulling her arms away from my grip. The struggle didn`t last much, but I felt her becoming more desperate each second. She cried "Leave me alone!" in such a heartrending plead that it made me want to die. Even so, I didn't release her. She twisted her body trying to set herself free and I ended hugging her from behind. The feeling of her fragile, soft and warm body pressed against mine drove me mad. I let her arms go free and embraced her tightly by the waist. She started pounding my arms with her fists, but it was fruitless, for her delicate blows didn't hurt me.
Holding that mysterious woman into my arms probed me to a weird mental reverie. I was feeling such an intense and pleasant sensation that everything I wished for was to spend the rest of my life embracing the frail body of that mysterious lady. It was such an inexplicable and blissful feeling that I really wished to spend the rest of my existence that way. It was heaven. And it was pure and innocent attraction, like the natural admiration of a mere mortal for an angel. Despite her being pretty and young, I was not feeling lustful. I wanted to possess her, but only spiritually. To merge my soul into hers. To make her be part of me, and be part of her.
That moment didn't last long, though. The woman cried "Please, let me go...", and jerked her body with all her strength. It was not enough to free herself, but I returned from my delirium and loosened my embrace. We struggled for a few seconds more, as I grabbed the hem of her brown cloak as she kept jerking her body, and after some insistence she finally set herself free.
With the force of her impulse, and my grab to the hem of her cloak, she fell on her knees. In the struggle, I had partially undressed the woman, who was lying on the floor in a deplorable state. The girl was panting heavily and sobbing. Her body shivered from cold and fear, as, under the thick brown cloak, she wore a short white dress and black stockings, which left a great deal of her legs, arms and shoulders exposed to the chilly breeze. Through the low neckline of her pure white dress, I caught the glimpse of two giant deep scars on her back. It looked like someone had cut her back to remove her ribs, or lungs. I was so shocked by the sight that I didn't even pay attention to the fact that her body looked gorgeous on that small dress. As I said before, I was driven to her, but not with lustful thoughts, it was something supernatural.
The blue-haired woman, still on her knees and arms, stared at me and asked "Why?" with her voice filled with fear.
I just didn't know what to answer. I didn't know why I held her before. I didn't mean her any harm, and seeing her in such a state made me feel devastated, wishing to make her some amends. However, I was completely in shock, so I just stuttered, "I... I..."
I think she noticed the glare in my eyes reflecting the confusion inside my soul, that she calmed down a bit, and added, a bit less scared, "You don't have the faintest idea of what you are trying to do..."
She was right. I can't say for certain what she thought I was trying to do, but I myself didn't know what I was doing, so she couldn't be wrong. I said nothing in response, and just stayed watching in silence the woman slowly stand up, put on her brown cloak again and retrieve her harmonica from the floor.
And what a woman she was! Probably in her late teens, the blue-haired and blue-eyed girl had an angelic face, an unparalleled beauty, and an extremely attractive body hidden under that cloak. But that was nothing compared to the overwhelming presence she had. I couldn't stand her stare for longer than a few seconds because there was something deep in her soul that I could not tell if it was hellish or heavenly, but that took possession of my own soul.
The woman walked slowly towards me, not showing fear anymore. Although she was rather shorter than me, at that moment she seemed to be a magnificent superhuman and I felt as if I were a child. I shuddered at her presence. When she was close enough, I fell on my knees and embraced her legs. "I... I suffer..."
She seemed to be a bit disturbed by my thwarting behavior, but this time she didn't try to get away from it. As I rested my head towards her belly, she asked me gently, "How?"
I tried to stare at her eyes in order to reassure her I was crying my heart out, but I was feeling too ashamed to do so. "I am weak... sick... lonely..."
I felt her body shiver in my arms and raised my head to look at her face. I noticed she had blushed. "This is not the way to cure your loneliness..." She gently pushed me away from her, and although I didn't want to loosen the embrace for I was feeling that blissful feeling inside my heart again, I didn't want to make her feel frightened again.
She turned back and added. "I'm not the kind of woman who cures your kind of loneliness."
Oh, man, what a bad impression I had left! That thought had never crossed my mind, for I didn't even sought her consciously. I tried to explain to her my exact feelings, but it was very hard, as I myself didn't know exactly what I was feeling. Besides, well, I admit that after seeing such beauty, I had thought about that, but it happened only after I had released her. "I never... never thought..."
She interrupted my attempt of saying something. "So why did you come to me?"
"Because... because..." I was so overwhelmed by the feelings the presence of that mysterious harmonica player caused me that I said in a supplicating tone, with tears in my eyes, "I am starving... sick... and weak... I was looking for somewhere to rest... but your hypnotic tune... I lost control..."
I was not certain that she had understood my fragmentary speech, and I was surprised that she turned to me again with a sweet playful laugh. "Well, you should look for Nurse Lisa to treat you then, but she would not approve your approach."
Her humorous remark incensed me, because it was pretty evident that I was suffering, and not in the mood for jokes. "If you can't help me..."
She walked towards me again, and asked in a compassionate tone. "What brings you here, stranger?"
Her calling me stranger left me somewhat awed, because I didn't believe she knew every citizen of a town large as Minea. But I had nothing left to lose. If she was not the death itself, waiting for the right moment to give me the death kiss, I had no reasons for mistrusting her. How could she harm me, anyway? With my head down, I tried to explain to her my situation,
"I... I have been wasting my life... I'm looking for a new start... I thought I could find an opportunity here... but now I am alone, sick, and... penniless..."
I looked up and noticed that she had her eyes closed, and the palm of her right hand was almost touching my forehead. Could it be that she was not listening at all? She seemed to be in trance. That view left me frightened; because I was not yet convinced that she was not a demon trying to suck my soul out of my body, death itself, or even an angel taking my soul. A fallen angel, stripped of her halo and wings, but yet able to play the divine tunes in a common instrument, enchanting the mere mortals with that irresistible feeling caused by her holy melodies.
Scared by my own thoughts, I asked the fallen angel, "What are you doing?"
She didn't answer. Instead, she started mumbling words, as if she was talking to someone else. "I can see inside his heart..." Her angelic features because more and more impressive, as an unnatural light seemed to irradiate from her body. "A sinner... many mistakes..." Each moment, I became more and more anxious. My heart was pounding faster and faster inside my chest, and that was the only indication that I was alive. I was on the verge of breaking down; it was too much for a mere mortal. I didn't know what that angelic girl wanted from me, but all I wished for was that I had never made it to Minea. "Deep inside, a good heart..." That I had never met that mysterious woman. That I had died like a common man. For I had left my past behind in order to begin a new meaningful and virtuous life, but I found nothing. "He ought to be happy... maker of grand things..." I just ended being captured by that scary woman and her siren melody. I regretted having trusted her and not meant her harm. I still had my sword by my side, but it was too late. In the state I was, there were no hopes left in my heart. I could feel my heart exploding inside my chest. It was the end...
I was wrong. Confused by those feelings I've never felt before, I didn't notice that it were those blissful waves invading my heart. Waves of pure love. I looked up and saw a serene smile in the face of that mysterious woman. And I forgot all the weariness, the pain, the weakness, the fear. It was heaven again. If I was really dying, I was not afraid anymore. Whatever magic that creature in form of a pretty young woman was making, it felt good. I was in peace. I wished I could stay like that for all the eternity.
But it was not meant to be. Soon, the unnatural light extinguished, and the blissful feeling went away with it. However, the pain, weariness and gloom disappeared completely. I was feeling strong and courageous. My heart was filled with hopes.
I slowly stood up, feeling better than I've ever been in my whole life. And I was confronted by the sweet smile of the mysterious lady.
"It feels much better, doesn't it?"
I was so utterly amazed that it took me some time to come up with words to answer her. "Yes!" I examined my body, completely healed, in complete disbelief. "How can this even be possible?"
The blue-haired lady winked at me. "It is a gift from me to you. I'm sure you will succeed in your future endeavors. You have the courage, the strength and the faith you need."
I was so moved by her words that I wanted to make sure I was not imagining things. "Wha... what did... you... you just say?"
With a serene smile and a serious tone, she added. "Heed the following, stranger: your success lies in humble and just servitude. Farewell, stranger." Then, she turned back and returned to the back of the alley, sitting on the same place she was when I've first met her.
It took me some time to digest what had just happened with me. When I tried to rationalize what had happened in that place, the only conclusion I could come up with was that it was just a dream. Even today, I still get myself wondering if it had not been just a dream, though the feelings were too real to be dismissed as a reverie, or an illusion. With nothing left to do there, I turned my back and stated leaving the dark alley. Before I could leave it, however, I turned back and asked.
"Who are you, anyway?"
The girl had already taken her harmonica to her lips, but stopped to answer me, in a nonchalant way. "Just a minstrel and poet."
It was not true. It couldn't be true. She couldn't just be a common woman. Her power was not natural. But I could feel that she didn't want to tell me who she were. However, even if it was just a dream, or an illusion from my mind, I wanted to hold on tight to that memory because I was sure I would never feel that blissful feeling again. "You jest. I beg you to tell me who you are, lady."
"I'm Reah, the poet and minstrel."
She winked at me again, and immediately resumed playing her harmonica. I was not satisfied with her answer, but I knew that there was nothing else to do. For a while, I stayed, in silence, watching her playing. Although it was the same hypnotic tune, this time it drove me away from the mysterious woman. That Reah was such a beautiful woman that I would not mind spending the rest of my life staring at her. Besides, there was something stronger than her physical beauty that made that last glimpse of her so remarkable that I can still see the images vividly in my mind after all those years. A white aura surrounded the frail girl, making her look more magnificent than she were. The most impressive thing about her, though, was the pair of huge translucent wings formed on her back. She looked exactly like a pure and holy angel, not the fallen one I believed her to be. There was no doubt left in my mind that Reah was not just a pretty blue-haired poet and minstrel. She certainly possessed powers far beyond my poor comprehension. More than that, even if our meeting lasted just a few minutes, I have no doubts that she was the most amazing person I've ever met in my life.
Then, I left. I don't remember very well what happened after that, I just know that I ended up in an Inn and spent the night in a small, but comfortable room. On the following day, I searched madly for Reah in every corner of Minea, but she was nowhere to be found. Not a trace of the pretty minstrel, not a note of the heavenly melody of her harmonica. People from Minea knew her, but no one could tell where she had gone. She had just vanished.
I was disturbed for a while. I believe I had fallen in love with her, and being separated briskly from her made me feel sad. However, sometimes I feel like that encounter had never taken place outside my own mind. Maybe it was just a delirium of a badly injured man, rescued by Minea guards and taken to the Inn. I tried to search for Reah, but she was nowhere to be found. And, as my search had been futile, I finally decided to settle down, take a regular job in Minea and restart my life from the scratch. Fortunately, I have been successful on that. A brave warrior named Adol, together with some companions, managed to bring peace to our lands again. Soon, the evil that threatened our lives was vanquished, allowing our land to flourish once more. Minea became a huge city, Zepik Village grew to a larger town, and other small villages popped up in the once deserted places. I played my small and humble part in our land's rebirth, always motivated by Reah's words.
Many years passed, I married, had children, and now I'm preparing myself to pass the torch to the newer generation. I'm not that old that I can't still do things, but I'm not that young and dreamy fellow who decided to quit an unfulfilling life of adventures in order to give a meaning to my life. Now, I am more of a wise teacher than a worker. But I'll still dedicate the last years of my life to serve, just like Reah had told me to do. Speaking of her, I've never heard about that lady again, much to my sadness. I still remember that life-changing encounter very often, and her angelic image and her kind words still inspire me to keep fighting for a better world.
My life had been so fulfilling that I thank the twin Goddesses of Ys every day for all the joys and pleasant experiences I was able to live. I have nothing to complain about, no unfulfilled dreams. I was left with only one small wish. I wish that one of these summer days, while seated in the park bench watching the people passing by, keeping the wheel of life moving, I am surprised by an old lady with silver hair sitting by my side, even if for just a few seconds. I just wish to see that heavenly smile once more, and thank Reah for everything.