I dream sometimes, of a place more wondrous than the wildest imagination. A glowing paradise of warmth, of brightness and laughter, where a toadstool might speak, or a statue come to life, or a frog turn to a man in the space of a heartbeat. Where the denizens of the otherworld come to play and cavort, where music is magic, the melodies caressing, leading you by the soul to join in the rhythm of a spiralling gavotte.
Yet it's no mere fantasy; I've been there. The memory is as vivid as the day I last saw it, that golden world in all its splendour. Only, I am no longer a child when I visit in my mind. I am as I am now, older, hopefully a good deal wiser, ripe and ready for adventure. I dream that one day I'll go back, and my world will be colourful again.
Tati once said that if you had a party every day, parties would soon become a lot less exciting. But that wasn't the way of it. Not for me at least. It was all I had known, until Tati crossed over for love of Sorrow, and Jena took her crown back. The portal to that otherworld was closed; no more dancing, no more friends. I was banished, unwilling, back to the banal and routine of life in the mortal realm; which had always seemed like the shadow of that other place.
Most girls my age dream of a good marriage, of pretty gowns and the next ball, where they'll meet a handsome suitor who will whisk them away to a life of quiet, dutiful contentment. At seventeen, I suppose I should have been thinking of such things too, but I wasn't. Jena said that the Otherworld might spoil the real one for us, and it was all too true. When the portal to the Otherworld was sealed, twelve years ago, it was as though the light had been snuffed out; the bright excitement of Full Moon revelry giving way to years of dull tedium.
My sisters had settled in this world, all married to very much mortal men and leading very much mortal lives. It had been easier for them to move on; they could remember a time before those magic years where we would dance the night away at Dancing Glade. They'd lived enough adventures for a lifetime, and were glad enough to dwell in this world with the ones they loved.
All save Tati, who had given up everything to follow Sorrow.
It was her I wondered about, absent for most of my life, gone since I was five years old. I remember little things. A cascade of black hair, like my own, pale hands holding mine, guiding me through letters and numbers and songs. But I can't remember her face. It's lost in a bright blur of other memories more vivid, of creatures and warm nights in that other realm. It frightened me to think that I could not remember my own sister, that I would never, see her again. Paula had given me hope, but that had been six years ago, and I was afraid I would slowly suffocate while waiting for a visit that might never come in my lifetime.
I pored over the scrolls, even though I knew the symbols so well I could scribe them again in my sleep, hoping that the characters would somehow miraculously reveal something new to me, even now, something that neither Paula nor I had discovered all those years ago.
I startled. I thought that everyone had gone to sleep already, but Iulia stood in the doorway. I raised my stub of candle, not realising how low it burned, to better see her.
"It's rather late," she said. "All the house has gone to bed already. Is something the matter?"
As she drew closer, I hastily set to packing away the scrolls, but she'd already seen. Her brows knitted in a frown and she adopted the tone she usually reserved for her young ones. "I thought you'd left those at home. This was meant to be a refreshing visit. So we could talk about your prospects. You won't get anywhere in life if you're still clinging to the past."
I sighed, setting down the candle, prepared for this discussion, one we'd had so many times of late. "I know I know. But I can't give up Iulia. I just can't. And it seems so much more important now that I go back there, at least once, before I have to resign myself to life in this world. Don't you understand? It was all I knew until it was taken away from me. Tati got to experience it as more than a restricted child. Jena had her adventure. Paula had hers."
"And what about me?" she queried. "After Full Moon I was perfectly content to stay here. I didn't go through any such struggles."
"And maybe that's enough for you, but it's not for me." At the look of hurt on her face, I frowned. "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair. But don't you want to go back, at least once? Don't you want to see Tati again?"
She pursed her lips, and set the candle down on the table, turning slightly away from me. "Of course I'd like to visit again. Of course I'd love to see Tati. But my life is here now. As is Jena's, and Paula's. You can be happy here, Stela."
Iulia sighed. "Tati is... Tati. If Sorrow had never been taken by the Night People, she would still be here too. You have to remember that he was one of us, really. It's not like Tati fell in love with some completely Otherworldly creature. If she had the choice to live in this realm, with him, I don't doubt she would have taken it."
"I'd rather live there than here." I muttered.
"Look," she said patiently. "You just have to give this world a chance instead of chasing a childhood dream, which however beautiful and wonderful it was, you might never see again. It's something you have to accept. It's stopping you from living your life. Jena and Paula agree with me. And I'm sure they'll tell you so when you visit them."
Not wishing to argue any further, I simply grumbled a reply. She gave me a weary smile, before hugging me.
"Remember we love you Stela. It was hard enough letting Tati go at all, I don't think we could bear it if we lost you too."
Then kissing me on the cheek, she left.