Chapter XXII

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Contrary to what I expected, walking was actually calming. We were not in the mood to talk that much, just a couple of phrases now and then when the silence became heavier, but it generally didn't bothered us, or me, at any instance.

The four of us were walking together, Wiese and Gail a couple of steps from Pandora and I, but my senses didn't find anything dangerous in the land. It still made me uneasy from time to time to know we had had such a bad time in the beach, but now that we were in the forest once again, an environment I knew way much better, I felt safer and more capable of defending the thee of them.

We were not searching for anything in particular, just a place to spend the night in, a cave, a thick zone of the forest but, when the sun was starting to set, a cloaked figure appeared in the horizon, humanoid, large and thin.

It was me who tried to go first, but Pandora gently took my hand and said no with her head. When I looked at her confused, I saw his face. Draxen was walking to us, accompanied by a creature of feline traits that reached him to the waist.

He was now dressed with dark clothes, barely seen if not for the light that came from the top of his wooden staff. I knew already I had nothing to be afraid of his creature, but Gail... she was already frozen in her place when I saw her.

"Hey, sweetie," I called her taking her hand. I didn't speak again until she saw my eyes. "There's nothing to worry about. That guy is our friend, okay? Nothing is going to happen to you now, you're safe, you're okay."

She just nodded, but that was all I needed. My head started to hurt when I remembered the moment Pandora and I found Wiese, and that I had told them almost the same words back then. Sure, nothing will happen, but risking your life doesn't count, I said to myself in my mind. I cleared my head when we were nearer to Draxen.

"Let me do the speaking," I sad to everyone.

"Princess Alynne, such a pleasure to meet you once again," said the wizard, bowing his head in respect, when we has near enough for all. "I can see your group is bigger, a nice surprise, if I can say."

"Hello, Draxen. Please, do use just my name, you know I prefer it that way." I smiled just because I wanted to. It was great to think in something that had nothing to do with shadows, danger and death. "Yes, it has. We've been searching for Gail and she's finally with us again," I looked at her for a second before speaking again, "and I hope that you were able to find what you were looking for as well."

"I did, thank you. The ruins were such a place, such a place." It was as if he was remembering the entire place in just one second, when all I could think about was the river and the shadow that came to us. "I'm in dept for your help, and consider me for anything you may need."

"Great to hear that, really, good news for you, if that bright in your eyes is sincere." I said.

"It is, you can be sure."

"And, actually, you could really help us, if it doesn't cause any problem to you..."

"Would never cause me anything negative," he interrupted me.

"We're searching for somewhere to spend the night, but not in the forest, but 'something like the cabin we met in, do you remember?"

"In fact," he said smiling again. "Not long ago I found a cabin that could be nice for you. Smaller than the first one, but hopefully will do."

"We're right behind you."

And starting with that, silence came again to surround us, but wasn't bothersome. In fact, I was grateful for it to be like that, to be in peace once again. Looking back into the past days, it surprised me how no one of us got killed, fight after fight and death after death.

The only thing I wished was for it to remain like that, for us to keep alive, to keep our bodies breathing, wherever they could be. I suddenly realized that, although I had always seen my family, my people, my land and my citizens, I never actually got to see my own body.

Wiese looked at me, surprised, maybe listening to my thoughts by accident, and slowed down their pace to be right beside me. Pandora, somehow, understood they wanted to speak with me in private; as private as you can be in a forest.

"You're right," they said in a low tone.

"What?" I asked, surprised.

"Think of your body, of your real body. That could help."

"You think so?" I looked at the others, hoping they didn't hear a thing. I knew I will tell them all eventually, but prefered to keep silence while I tried that idea.

"There's only one way to know. And yes," they said after a pause, "ask Pandora for help."

I muttered a quick thank you before letting them go back before anyone looked at us. We were not that far from the house, as it was already seen between dark, thick bushes and trees. It was a simple house made of wood, and certainly smaller than the past one we had used, but, as Draxen had said, it will do.

Gail was somewhat scared of it. I saw her steps became smaller and more insecure. I came to her side and took her hand to let her know there was nothing to be afraid of, although I also told that to myself, more often that I liked to admit. She still had black holes under her eyes, but the hint of a smile made its way to her face. It was enough for me, and I hoped enough for her as well.

"There's no one living in here," said Draxen when we were about to enter, smiling while talking, "so you can feel at home."

"Thank you, Draxen," I said when all of the group was inside and he waited for me.

"Not a problem at all, princess."

"It's useless to ask you to call me by my name, isn't it?" I joked.

"Maybe yes, but let's discuss it inside, wouldn't you prefer it like that?" Smart, I told myself.

"Sure."

The cabin was simpler than the last one, with only a big room on the first level and what seemed to be a second one with the same idea. Being compeltely made of wood, it gave the sense of a warm environment, a calming balm for all the stress we've been under.

"Alynne, could you come here." I heard Pandora calling me from upstairs.

"Sure." I had not finished climbing the stairs when I felt something was ... odd, in that room.

"You feel it, right?" Said my friend when she saw me.

"Yes," I bit my lips, nervous. "Any idea what it is?"

"That book in the table," she pointed at a diary near to one of the beds.

However, the gesture caused it to fall from its place and open, creating a slight breeze that reminded me of the smell of the lakes around my castle, the barely noticeable heat that flooded it in the mornings, the aroma of the pines not far away from there.

Pandora was also under that kind of spell, but still surprised, with her fingers drawing a first rune, ready to attack if she needed to, but what appeared before us wasn't a shadow, but a ghost who seemed to have been crying for a hundred years.

Pandora was also under that kind of spell, but still surprised, with her fingers drawing a first rune, ready to attack if she needed to, but what appeared before us wasn't a shadow, but a ghost who seemed to have been crying for a hundred years

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