ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
It was getting darker.
“You have an idea where we have to go, right?” Nanna hissed.
Paltar tried not to let her words get to him. Right now it was only important that they moved and stayed alert. Who knew what their voices had already attracted in this huge forest?
She bit him lightly in the calf. He flinched, and looked at her.
“You got a better idea?” he finally hissed back.
Fortunately, Eo was too busy looking at his toy to notice their conversation. Still, Paltar got the feeling the boy was listening, and so he fell a bit behind with Nanna following his pace. That way he could keep an eye on the boy without him noticing their conversation. Paltar watched as Eo barely looked at the path ahead.
“I wonder if he could even recognize this place if he just keeps looking at his toy...” he mumbled.
But what else could they do? None of them had any idea where they were going. By now, he even wondered if there was a way, or if this was just another labyrinth growing around them.
High up in the branches, there were not only blossoms in pastel shades, but also the shadows of birds, big as vultures, and sometimes he could hear them screech. Surely, they were waiting for a moment to snatch Nanna, or even Eo. And in the shadows of the trees, was there no the glint of a wild animal’s eyes, ready to strike? Paltar looked more closely, but he couldn’t say for sure. But that uneasy feeling that he had since they arrived here persisted.
“We need a plan,” Nanna said.
But she hesitated. What was she thinking?
“Spit it out,” Paltar said and sighed.
“Can’t you use your ability?”
He stared at her as she waved her wings.
“Your… strings. Threads. Whatever. Can’t you use them to guide us?”
The longer she talked, the more excited she sounded about her idea.
“After all, I can’t fly high enough to get any kind of orientation,” she explained. “And to be honest, I’m getting tired.”
“You’re right,” Paltar said.
How could he not have thought of it himself?
“Of course I am,” she laughed, “After all, I’m the smartest here!”
But her words didn’t sound genuine. Nevertheless, Paltar smiled at her.
“If you say so, princess,” he replied instead. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Who said that I...”
She stopped and muttered something he could not hear. Still, she kept close to him as he made his way over to Eo.
“Hey, Eo,” Paltar called out. “Do see anything familiar?”
The boy turned around and looked at him with an expression he simply couldn’t read. The boy was strange, that was for sure. But the most important thing right now was to get him back to where he came from, and ensure his safety.
Paltar took another step towards him, and only then noticed they were standing at a cliff, right in the middle of the forest. Behind Eo, the soil simply stopped, dropping deep below.
“Uh, Eo, could you step away from that?”
The boy tilted his head, and instead of coming closer to Paltar, he actually walked backwards.
“Not like that!”
Paltar leaped forward and grabbed the boy by his arms.
But it was too late. Together with the boy, he fell down.
“Paltar!” Nanna screamed behind him.
He pulled the boy closer, trying to shield him from any damage as they fell.
Pain seared through his body as it slammed against the ground, pushing the air from his lungs. For a moment, he really thought he would die.
Nanna flew down from above.
“What did you do?” she screamed at him.
“N-nothing,” Paltar answered.
She landed next to him. Suddenly, she was so close, and Paltar coughed.
“What’s this about?” he asked, getting up.
“At least you’re not really hurt,” she said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t complain.”
Eo was still clinging to his toy mouse. He didn’t have a single scratch on him, and he didn’t even seem scared. Paltar smiled at him.
“Sorry for confusing you,” he said. “But I’m glad you’re alright.”
Eo tilted his head.
“I wasn’t confused,” he said.
Then, he turned to his mouse again. Paltar blinked. He just couldn’t make sense of the boy.
“Let’s just go out of here,” Nanna said. “Paltar, where do we have to go?”
He closed his eyes and concentrated on the threads around them.
They were not alone.
It was the first thing he noticed. This forest was truly alive, filled with beings he couldn’t understand, their threads faint but diverse. Some of the hidden beings around them were old, their threads sagging but strong. Others were young and full of reckless energy, with glittering, vibrating threads. All of the threads here seemed more alive than any he encountered before – even his own thread, connecting him to Nanna seemed to glow slightly in his vision.
But that wasn’t what he should focus on. Instead, he focused on Eo’s threads. They were odd, just like the boy himself. He didn’t have many, and when he saw the thin thread that connected him to the toy Paltar made, his heart ached. The poor boy really was alone. But there were some faint strings that went right into the forest. Even when he looked away from Eo and followed the strings, it was difficult to make out where exactly they were going. But it was a hint, at least. He finally opened his eyes.
“Let’s go that way,” he said, and pointed to some high trees in front of them.
Nanna got up and started to waddle into that direction, while Paltar waited for Eo to catch up to them. For a moment, everything seemed peaceful, but he tried to keep an eye on the potential dangers lurking in the shadows around them. If they were attacked, he wasn’t sure if he could fight, or buy them enough time to get to safety. And while Nanna’s bite was vicious, would it be enough to deter a hungry animal?
He shook his head. It wasn’t worth thinking about it. Instead, he just had to make sure they stayed out of sight.
His head hurt from all the thinking.
As if she could feel his pain, Nanna was right next to him.
“Are you all right?”
He smiled at her.
“Just tired,” he replied.
“Well, it is late,” she agreed. “Shall we rest here?”
Paltar blinked, and looked at the strings around them before he shook his head.
“Let’s keep going.”
He didn’t want to worry her with the reason. It wouldn’t help to tell her about the dangers lurking in the shadows, not if they stayed away. Still, it was a miracle that Eo had been left alone for so long, even though he had cried so loudly.
Paltar’s gaze rested on the boy, who walked through the tall grass and flowers that grew up to his shoulders as if it were nothing. He was still clutching his toy, and that made Paltar smile again and again. At least his sewing skills could help.
“But I’m getting tired,” Nanna grumbled next to him.
“Just a little longer,” he replied. “Besides, we have to find something to eat.”
He could see a few berry bushes ahead, but he wasn’t sure if they were edible. And he certainly didn’t want to poison himself now, after all they had been through.
“Hm? Oh, dewberries!” Nanna pointed towards the berries. “They’re good. A delicacy, actually.”
She still surprised him. How could she tell?
“I’ve only had them twice in my life.” she explained with a nod. “They say eating dewberries is good for your skin.”
“Not that you need it,” he laughed.
“Huh? What do you mean?” She glared at him.
“I mean, you’re covered in feathers – ow!”
“I still have skin! Do you know nothing about birds?”
“Ow! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Your Highness!”
Even though she bit him, it didn’t hurt as much as he pretended it did. For a moment, he laughed, forgetting the darkness around them.
“Good,” Nanna huffed. “Then you should collect them for us.”
She finally stopped her attack, and waddled over to the berry bushes.
“Of course,” he murmured and followed her.
Suddenly, he heard another sound. A laugh like a bell, ringing through the dark, coming from Eo. But when Paltar looked at him, the boy quickly hid behind his stuffed mouse.
“I guess we have comedic talent,” he whispered to her.
“Hmph.” That was her only answer.
Nevertheless, he began to gather the shimmering pink berries as Nanna watched him and Eo. Somehow, he didn’t feel the threatening presence of the shadows here. Maybe he didn’t need to worry, after all.