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Old 09-12-2020, 06:22 PM
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Awesome post, Liri! And thank you!

The entire group followed the silver-haired girl who floated along on a chilly breeze, seemingly as weightless as a feather. I had to blink several times whenever I saw her. It had been such a crazy day, and though over the past few weeks, I was slowly growing accustomed to the idea that magic – real magic – existed, seeing it in the flesh like this, after the day I’d had… well, it was all rather overwhelming.

I stayed at the fringes of the group, not saying much to the others. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but…
For years, people had accused me of being cold, aloof, and distant. Many said they could never really tell what I was thinking or feeling. The cruelest of them jeered about whether I was capable of feeling anything at all. I didn’t mean to be cold, but ever since Mom had disappeared, and Dad grew so distant… coming home every day to my stepmother and stepsister, who treated me like I was a piece of furniture, unless they had some demand to make of me. It was so hard to find a place where I could express myself, without being sneered at or laughed off.
I watched the group warily, unsure what to make of them. It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful – and I hoped I didn’t come off that way. They had rescued me from a terrifying situation, after all. But… I had no idea how to approach any of them, or what I’d say. I didn’t want to come off as too stiff and formal, as I often did.

Two of the girls, one with wildly curling dark hair and a dancer’s grace, the other tall and regal with long golden hair, walked a bit apart from everyone else. I could tell, even at a glance, that they were somewhat outsiders to the group. They walked side by side, but didn’t seem to have the closeness and camaraderie the others shared. It was like they were business partners, long-time acquaintances but not really friends.

I became aware that one of the girls was watching me. I turned to see a petite, pretty girl about a couple years younger than me, with long brown hair and dark eyes. Yue, I recalled her name was. “Hey, how are you holding up?” Her voice was soft and gentle, unassuming, but something about it invited you in. Somehow, something about her made me want to open up. Though we’d never met before, she had the air of someone who would be gentle and understanding, no matter what I said or did.
“It’s… a lot to take in.” I replied cautiously.
“How exactly did you end up running from those men? I know you said they kidnapped you in London, but what were you doing when they grabbed you?” she asked as we kept following the group.
“I... was looking for my mom, Marya, and the last place she had been before she disappeared was in London, so I thought I would try to trace her steps. I went to see her old friend, who told me that just before Mom disappeared she told Lydia she was going to ‘a land of fairy tales,' and that… that she was doing it for me - so that it wouldn’t end up being my destiny. Whatever that means.” I paused, swallowing hard and gazing off into the distance. “Then my do- uh, then I learned that she was researching Estoriana at the time, so I bought this book about Estoriana…”
It was such a relief to finally say all of this out loud. I’d been so alone on my search, the only person who believed that she might still be found. And at last, I might finally be on the right track towards the truth, however terrifying and unbelievable it was turning out to be.

“Tales of Estoriana?” Yue asked, smiling, “That book is on every shelf of every home in Estoriana.”
“Yeah, that one.” I replied, then continued my tale. “Next, I went to the school Mom had attended, Loredale Private Academy, to look for information.”
“Loredale? My aunts and grandfather went there!” Yue exclaimed. “I can’t believe it still exists!”
“Your aunts and grandfather? What are their names? Did they know my mom?” I asked eagerly.
“Well, they aren’t my aunts by blood, I only have one of those - my mom’s twin sister, Aunt Saige. And I never heard your mom’s name mentioned before, so I don’t think any of my family knew her at school - or at least they weren’t close with her if they did. My grandfather is Shang, now he is King of Corona, but at the time he was just a student there. My aunts that went to Loredale are Astrid, Lillie, Ivory, and Dove.” Yue explained. “Astrid was the first Estorianian to meet my dad, Jack Frost - though at the time she had no idea she was Estorianian!”

I stopped walking, staring at her with wide eyes. “You are related to the people from the storybook?!”
“All the stories inside that book are real. Actually, every fairy tale that I have ever heard of is real! Peter Pan, Rapunzel, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast…. All the stories parents told their children, every fairy tale character, all real. My aunt Astrid is really the descendant of Peter Pan, and she can fly and everything! My mom is the descendant of Rapunzel and Mulan, and has the warrior skills and magic healing tears to show it. My dad is Jack Frost himself, winter sprite and Guardian of all Earth’s children - my sister Ayla inherited his winter powers, as you can see. Kati over there is from the lost city of Atlantis! Forest over there is descended from Robin Hood, and Ava from the Blue Fairy. Lissa is descended from the Knave of Hearts and Alice from Wonderland, Soraya from Jasmine, and Noelle from Elsa.”
I stared at her in amazement. So it was really true! Everything in Tales of Estoriana. And all these people before me, who had literally walked off the pages of a storybook… what incredible, magical sights had they all seen? Why were they here now, and what kind of place were we headed to?
It was too much to believe. I stared at Yue with a mix of awe and skepticism. Could it really be true?

“Our parents and grandparents really experienced everything written in Tales of Estoriana. You might even be descended from someone in a fairy tale!” she stated, seeing the look on my face. “I know it may be hard to believe at first, but all of us in this group are living proof that the stories are all real.” Yue gestured towards the others.

After another moment standing in shocked silence, I began walking after the group again, mulling over all that Yue had just revealed to me. She walked beside me quietly, giving me space to process those truths, truths that were so different from everything in my worldview up until now. I was grateful for her quiet consideration.

“Yue?” I finally spoke up, not wanting to seem like I was purposefully ignoring her. “What you said about all the stories… it’s a lot to take in, and I need to think about it more still, but I think maybe Miss Lovely would have told me the same things if I had been able to meet with her like planned. She asked me if I believed in magic when we spoke, and she spoke of girls with the same names as your aunts.”
“You were going to meet up with Miss Lovely?!” Yue asked, visibly excited. “How did she seem? My aunts were hoping to come visit her soon, but then people started disappearing and the land started fading - ”
“Wait - what?! People disappearing? Like my mom did?” I gasped, heart hammering.

“Not exactly… well, at least, probably not, but I guess it is possible… I don’t know how or why your mom disappeared. I guess I should probably explain to you what is going on…” Yue then relayed to me everything that had been happening, the guesses they had as to why, the prophecy, and where the questers were going. “I think you were meant to be on this quest with us too.” she finished.
She showed me the prophecy lines. At the very bottom, the last stanza read:

Girl from the world of magic lost, knowledge always demands a cost
At last you’ll find the one you seek, in the darkest hour when all seems bleak
Make peace with the past to embrace a new start, with the beauty that blooms from a once-closed heart

“That’s… dramatic, isn’t it?” I said with a nervous laugh. “How can you be sure that it means me?”
In truth, those words struck a nerve with me. Make peace with the past… I thought that I had long ago, accepted the grief and loneliness of my mother’s absence. Had I really closed myself off that much?
And what was that about knowledge always demands a cost? I wasn’t sure how much I had left to lose… what price would I have to pay to know the truth? Desperation welled up in me. I had to know the truth, but what would it cost me?
I shook it off, not letting any of it show on my face. No. This quest, this prophecy… it had nothing to do with me. It couldn’t. I was just an ordinary girl, from an ordinary world, who had a chance encounter with a hidden magical reality.

“I mean, it’s just too much to believe in, isn’t it?” I pointed out rationally. Calm, practical Katya, same as always. “That you would literally run into the one person you needed to find for your quest, in the middle of nowhere, just when you were about to start your journey? I mean, a coincidence that big just doesn’t happen in real life.”
“What if it’s not a coincidence though?” Yue asked eagerly. “What if it was all… meant to happen? The prophecy mentions that you’ll find the person you seek in your darkest hour. When you were lost, and frightened, you came across us. Maybe it’s our destiny to help you find your mother. Just like it’s yours to be a part of us.”
I smiled. “I’m sorry , Yue, but… I don’t believe in fate.”
Yue smiled in understanding. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but I really believe that you’re the one we’ve been looking for. Will you at least give us a chance? Accompany us as far as Santoff Claussen, and maybe you’ll find something there that will give you a clue.”
I nodded. “Okay. I have nowhere else to go anyway… and you did save me. Truly, I’m grateful.” I hesitated. “Also… thanks. For being willing to listen.”
“Of course.” Yue’s face broke into a smile. I felt myself warm up to her quiet, unassuming kindness.
“What is this Santoff Claussen like, anyway?” I asked. “How will we know when we get there? I’ve never heard of such a place, and I’ve lived in Russia my entire life. Siberia is right by us.”
Yue smiled, a bit mysteriously. “Well… that’s something we should discuss together. Come on, let’s catch up to the others. We’re almost there!”

“Wow,” I marvelled as Ayla and I trekked onwards at the front of the pack, her flying, me walking alongside. “I’ve never watched the sun rise from the middle of a snowy forest before! I mean, you’d think I’d have done it at least once, given how Arendelle is literally a snowy kingdom surrounded by woods! But nope, Mom never let me stay up the entire night. The few times I did, it was when you and I were having sleepovers, remember?”
“Of course!” Ayla grinned. “You used to hide under the covers after I told scary stories. Remember the one about the yeti in your closet? Auntie Calla was so confused when you refused to change your clothes for a week!”
“Oh yeah?” I smirked. “You were the one who was so terrified after I told that story about the poltergeist, you thought the coat rack in the corner of your room was a ghost!”

We both burst out laughing. Uncle Jack had immortalized these incidents, from back when I was six and Ayla seven, in one of the enormous family albums we kept. He was the eternal Guardian of Fun, after all!
In fact, I was laughing so much, I forgot to watch where I was going. “Oof!” I crashed face first into something rough and sturdy.

“Are you okay?” Ayla asked, rushing forward.
“Yeah.” I stood up and stared at what I had just bumped into. It was dark brown under the thick covering of snow, and its surface felt like… bark? “A branch?” I asked.

But it wasn’t. My eyes followed the long, snaking length of gnarled wood. It was twisted, branching, and looked distinctly like…
“A tree root…” I said slowly, unable to believe my eyes. “But what kind of tree has roots this big?”
Ayla’s eyes grew huge, with wonder and excitement… but not surprise. “Looks like we’re finally here!” She exclaimed. Ayla raised her voice above the howl of the wind through the trees. “Yue! Hurry up, we’re here!”

In a few moments, all of the Legacies had gathered around the enormous tree root, staring at the branching network that stretched into the distance, just barely visible under the heavy snow cover. We couldn’t even see the tree that these belonged to. How massive did it have to be, to spawn roots like these?

As the brilliant orange hues of the dawning sky painted over the pure white snowscape, we became aware of the enormous shadow that loomed over us all. We all tilted our heads up, up, up, into the twisting network of branches that seemed to stretch into the sky itself. A massive oak tree, tall as the castle of Arendelle, stood guard over all the smaller pines and evergreens, that seemed as tiny as a child’s play set in comparison.
“Whoa,” I heard someone whisper, almost under their breath, as we all stared in awe.

Ayla cleared her throat. “Now that we’re here, it’s time to reveal the truth about the village of Santoff Claussen.”
“Dad told us about this before we left,” Yue added, “But we wanted to wait for everyone to gather before telling you all.”

“In the forest hinterlands of eastern Siberia, sat the little town of Santoff Claussen,” Ayla began, and in her voice I heard the ancient wisdom of the Guardians, passed down through countless ages of mortals.
“Ombric, who would someday be known as Father Time, searched far and wide for a place to create a town where people who valued imagination and dreams could make their home. A meteor crash turned out to be the perfect location, for in the center of the crater a lone sapling had been left unharmed by the crash, and Ombric discovered it had been imbued with ancient starlight. It grew into a magnificent tree named Big Root, in which Ombric made his home. He welcomed all with kind hearts and curious minds, and the small village of Santoff Claussen was founded.”

“To protect the village, Ombric designed layers of magical barriers. He cultivated an encircling hedge of bracken and vines a hundred feet high with thorns as long as spears, their growth hastened by the stardust that had seeped into the ground. He conjured a great black bear that would serve as the village's guardian. Upon the village's outer rim, he planted the largest oak trees in the world, whose roots could rise up and block the path of evildoers. And lastly, he created a beguiling temptress, the Spirit of the Forest. Only those found to be pure of heart by the Spirit and the Bear, shall be allowed to pass into the town.”

There was a moment of silence as Ayla finished recounting the tale.
“How can we prove that we’re pure of heart?” I asked eagerly. “Is there some sort of test we have to take or…?”
“We don’t know,” Yue answered. “Dad said we must make our own way through these woods and prove ourselves to be pure of heart.”

“Well, only one way to find out!” I turned to the enormous ring of oak roots that surrounded us. “We’re here to save our entire world - and possibly every other magical realm as well - from falling into destruction and oblivion, after all! What could be a purer motive than that?”
I noticed several of the Legacies - especially the Exilians and Katerina - eyeing the twisted roots warily. Ignoring their hesitation, I stepped boldly into the woods beyond.

Nothing happened. The roots stayed perfectly still, and none lifted to attack. I turned to grin back at the others. “Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“Whoa!” I heard Ayla’s excited voice exclaim from above, high up in the tree’s endless branches. “These really are the biggest oaks in the world! I can’t even see the top from here.”

I wandered deeper and deeper into the snowy forest, mesmerized by the towering trees. I felt like Jack, a tiny figure in a giant’s world. I crawled under roots thicker than I was tall, skirting around tree trunks wide as houses.
“And to think,” I marveled. “This is only the first stop of our journey!” I spread my arms wide, leaning back to let the glowing light of dawn wash over my face. “Who knows what sights are awaiting us next? This is going to be the adventure of a lifetime!”

(Description of Santoff Claussen’s defences is from the Guardians of Childhood book series, provided by Liri.

Also, as to how the Bear and the Spirit of the Forest will test our characters - in the Guardians of Childhood books, the Spirit tempted trespassers to the village with great riches, and if they gave in to greed, they would be turned into stone. Liri and I agreed that this test won’t make much sense for our characters - I mean, many of them grew up in literal castles, so a pile of gold probably won’t be too tempting. So Liri proposed the idea that, as the Legacies get closer to the village, the Bear would appear to block our way. Then the Spirit of the Forest will speak to each of our characters individually about their reasons for coming to Santoff Claussen. If we can convince her of the purity of our motivations, she’ll let us pass. Now, this probably won’t be a problem for everyone besides the Exilian characters. However, if they can come up with a reason that’s pure and selfless (alongside their uh, other reasons) they’ll be able to pass her test. Glory, I hope you won’t mind coming up with something she can accept for Scarlet?

If anyone has some other ideas, that’d be great too! )

Sig made by the amazing Ruby (Book Thing)!

Last edited by Night Wish; 09-12-2020 at 06:30 PM.
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