ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
Even the outside looked similar to the farm he knew, but there were a few differences that immediately told him he hadn't traveled back in time or back home. For one, his family's actual home was completely missing. There also was no human sound, no exasperated grunts and sighs from the fields, or his mother's soft chatter.
It all seemed hollow. Abandoned—no, like there was never human life here to begin with.
He could hear a few sounds—the flapping of wings, the honking of geese—but other animal sounds were completely absent. Where were the chickens? The cows, the sheep? No pigs? Something was wrong here. It didn't even smell like a farm. It was pleasant, but the deep, earthy scent he knew from his childhood was missing.
This was all wrong.
"What is this?" he asked.
Reod leaned against the wall of the barn and grinned at Paltar.
"What do you mean?"
Paltar gestured around them.
"Wrong," he sighed, finally. "Is that one of your challenges as well?"
"Like I said before, you're sharp." Reod grinned, showing his teeth all the while. "You're right."
On the inside, Paltar groaned. When would these challenges end? Was the wizard not yet satisfied? But he didn't ask these questions.
"What am I to do?"
"Oh, your task is simple." Reod smiled at him, and though it could look soft and warm, Paltar knew by now that it was nothing of the sort. "You just have to find your precious Nanna."
Paltar blinked, and then his heart raced as if he was going to faint. He tried to get a glimpse of what lay behind Reod, but he couldn’t see anything.
"Nanna is here?"
"Of course," Reod chuckled. "What do you think those sounds were?"
The geese. Of course! Paltar rushed past Reod and followed the sound, his feet moving faster than his head. He couldn't think, and maybe it was better that way. He hurried over to the pen, where a flock of white geese was waddling around, honking at him.
But if she was here, she didn't answer him. Instead, the geese all behaved like geese would—searching the ground for seeds, cleaning their feathers, or sleeping.
"What have you done to Nanna?"
"Nothing," Reod said. "She just agreed to our deal to save you."
"What?" Paltar hissed.
What had Nanna done? Was she now cursed to really live as a goose?
"She can't contact you," Reod said. "She can't tell you who she is. Right now she should be indistinguishable from these geese."
He felt tears prick the corners of his eyes. Why did the wizard enjoy such cruelty? He couldn't understand. Nanna was not a goose. She didn't belong here! He couldn't...
"If you wish to save her and return her to her human form," Reod said, completely ignoring Paltar's question, "you must find her in this pen and mark your decision with a kiss."
"Of course." Reod laughed. "What else would release her but the kiss of true love?"
True love. The word echoed heavy in his chest. Was that the right name for this feeling? Paltar didn't know. He had always thought that what he had with Satsuki was love, true love... but that had ended most painfully for him. And it was so different with Nanna. If he was honest, there was no one who could compare with Nanna, and whatever this feeling was that bloomed inside of him whenever he thought of her. So maybe Reod was right. But still...
"How am I supposed to find her if she can't tell me who she is?"he wondered.
"Use your head, boy," he said. "You'll find a way."
He shrugged again. "Or you won't. I don't care."
Paltar was speechless. For a moment, the wizard seemed uninterested, turning his head to the side to watch the geese. Still, he watched Paltar with his golden eyes as he finally found a reaction within himself.
"That's not - how am I -"
"I don't care. You can still turn back if you're not up to the task."
He shot Reod an angry look, but it didn’t do much. Still, Paltar wouldn't leave Nanna here alone. Not in a million years! Not when he was so close to bringing her back to her human form. He would find her, no matter what it took. Paltar took a deep breath and immediately choked on it.
It had been ages since he had kissed anyone. A true love’s kiss? But even if he felt that way, how would Nanna feel? He didn't want to force anything on her. His feelings were his own to deal with. That was simply cruel. But if it was the only way to get her back...
‘I'll apologize properly later,' he thought. ‘I hope she'll understand.’
Was she listening to their conversation right now? Did she see his reaction? Paltar grabbed his head. Oh, this was too embarrassing! He was supposed to be making pretty clothes for her, and that was it! He didn't need all this, and yet...
Losing her would be too much. He couldn't go back. He couldn't make the wrong choice. He just couldn't. It was not an option. Even though his face was still burning, he turned to the coop and looked at the geese inside. But they had little interest in him, or what he had to say.
Even saying her name brought no reaction. He knew that would be the case, and yet, he had to try it at least once. Now, he watched the geese, trying to find Nanna through some form of observation. Some of the geese were sleeping, while others looked at him warily. Maybe they would try to bite him if he got in there. Oh well. It wasn't like he wasn't used to it by now. But still, how could he find her in there?
He sighed. It didn't matter. He would find her, without a doubt in his heart.