It was a beautiful sunny sky that greeted us as we set off on our hike. We tried not to think too much about what we were doing or what we were looking for. Hours flew by and we must have walked several miles yet we found no evidence of any castle. Dejected, I sat down on a rock and let my head fall into my hands. Would I never get answers? Was I doomed to feel incomplete for the rest of my life?
“Oh, Kaido,” I muttered sullenly. “Where are you?”
“Don’t give up, Eirwin. There is something going on. I saw it too remember, saw you start to… change.” The notion still made her uncomfortable. “So, you’re not crazy. If you’re crazy then I must be too!” Angie sat down beside me, pulling a water bottle from her pack.
“You called for me?”
Both of us jumped, causing water to come flying out of Angie’s mouth and me to shriek in surprise.
It was Kaido, as alluring and elegant as I remembered him. Angie’s jaw nearly hit the ground and she threw me a wide-eyed look. It wasn’t often that Angie was left speechless.
“Um, not exactly,” I answered timidly. “It was an accident.”
“Oh.” The hope on Kaido’s face vanished.
“But,” I amended quickly, “I am glad you came.” He watched me quietly, curiously, waiting for me to go on except, I had no idea what to say. Maybe I should start with an apology. “I am sorry for running out on you yesterday. You have to understand how much of a shock it all was.”
Crossing his arms, he leant lazily against a tree. “Does it still shock you?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “But I am ready to understand.”
“So, you have come for more answers.”
I nodded and he smiled sweetly. “Then you will have to come with me.” Kaido held out his hand and beckoned me to come closer.
“Ahem,” Angie cut in. “Where she goes, I go.”
“Kaido, this is my friend, Angie. She, um, she knows about me... us.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Angie. Any friend of Leira’s, ah, that is Eirwin’s, is a friend of mine, however I must apologise. You cannot follow where we are going but I promise Eirwin will be completely safe and shall return to you unharmed.” He even threw in a bow, hand to heart as though swearing an oath.
I took Angie’s hand. “I will be alright.” She squeezed my hand tightly and I feared she would not let me go. “Angie, please,” I begged. “I have to do this.”
Finally, she let go. “Be careful,” she warned.
“I will.” I took Kaido’s offered hand and together we strode into the forest. After a short while, the castle appeared before us though I could have sworn it was not there a moment ago. I would have seen it. Slowly, I took a few steps back and the castle disappeared again and so had Kaido. I moved forward again and there it was, standing tall and solid.
Kaido chuckled at my expression. “This castle is hidden from human sight. It exists in a slightly different dimension, accessible via the gateway we just crossed. If a human were to pass through the gateway, they would see nothing but forest. We, on the other hand – and other creatures like us – can move through dimensions. Have a look at the sky,” he invited. “I dare say you did not notice it yesterday.”
I glanced up and gasped. The sky was awash with surreal hues of lilac and gold with fluffy orange clouds drifting lazily along. “I don’t understand. Are you saying we are on a different planet or something, or an alternate reality? Parallel universe?”
“No, we are still on Earth only, a slightly different version of Earth. So, yes, alternate reality would be correct, or alternate dimension.”
I was never any good at science back at school and this was getting into quantum physics type stuff.
“Think of it like this,” Kaido offered, “there are several dimensions that exist all at once and they overlap each other at various points. Humans are not aware of their existence, nor are they able to accidently cross over into one.”
“But, wouldn’t that mean that there is another version of me here? Doesn’t the theory of alternate dimensions or whatever, state that everything possible exists as alternate dimensions?” It was something like that I was sure.
“That is true for humans. However, it is not a problem for interdimensional creatures like us.”
“What?” This was getting too much for my brain to handle.
“Basically, there cannot be more than one of a creature who was made to travel interdimensionally.”
That made sense, I supposed. “Why can’t we just live in the same dimension as humans? Wouldn’t that make things easier?”
“Humans are not ready to accept our existence just yet. Who knows, maybe they never will be. To them, we are creatures of fantasy, fiction and myth.”
Again, it made some sort of sense if one was willing to think illogically. This time, I could walk into the castle on my own two feet and took my time to admire it. I felt like I was in a fairy tale and Kaido was Prince Charming while I was Cinderella. Kaido escorted me through the entry into a comfortable sitting room, encouraging me to make myself at home. As I was settling into one of the cozy, over-sized armchairs, a man-like creature appeared at the door. Though it had the body shape of a human male, it was not human. The skin covering his body – I assumed it was a male – was green, as was the hair falling loosely to its shoulders. His slightly tilted eyes were also green and held a mischievous twinkle. He wore no clothing save for a pair of brown pants and a brown, plaited cord tied around its head. Intricate patterns of vine-like swirls covered all the bare skin I could see, including the face. Despite the foreign appearance, something about the creature was familiar.
It spoke in a lilting, almost musical voice. “Ah, apologies, Kaido. I see you have company. I was awaiting your arrival however, I can return at another time if this would be more advantageous to you.”
“No apology is necessary, friend. Allow me to reintroduce you to Leira, although she goes by Eirwin now.”
Larken’s hand flew to his mouth. “You found her,” he whispered. I stood as he walked over to me. “I would not even have recognized you.” Then, without any warning, the creature threw its arms around me in a tight embrace. “I am so happy to see you again!” Not wanting to cause offense, I returned the embrace. “We have so much to catch up on, my sweet Leira. Ah but it shall be fun around here once more!” Larken was grinning from ear to ear.
“Am I not fun, Larken?” Kaido countered, pretending to sulk.
Larken laughed cheerfully. “You, my friend, are far too serious and passionate for real fun.”
“Some of us have to be,” Kaido retaliated. “And besides," he added with a cheeky smirk, "it depends on what you label as fun."
Larken chuckled and shook his head but grumbled when Kaido informed him that Eirwin/Leira would be staying at the castle for the time being. “That’s not fair," he poutred. "Leira will not stand for that. Will you?”
“Ahhh, I… I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I don’t actually remember anything.”
Larken laughed again. “Oh, still the same I see. Nice try, Leira. You shan't get away from me that easily.”
“She speaks the truth, Larken,” Kaido informed him solemnly. “She does not remember who or what she is.”
Larken switched his gaze between the two of us and seemed to wilt as he finally realised this was no joke. “You… You truly remember nothing?”
I shook my head sadly, regretfully. I didn’t want to upset anyone else with this damned amnesia. Hurting Kaido was enough.
“Is that even possible?” Larken asked Kaido.
“It is not unheard of,” Kaido replied. “Sometimes the spirit chooses to reincarnate into human form. We do not know why. It is so rare that we have not had time to study it properly.”
“Ahem,” I cleared my throat to get their attention. What on Earth were they talking about? Reincarnation? I was here for answers, not for them to speak about me over my head. “Could someone just tell me what is going on? Please.” There was a note of desperation in my voice.
Kaido gave a start then bowed his head to me. “Of course. My apologies, Eirwin. Larken, you are welcome to stay if you like,” he offered.
“I think I will. Maybe I can help jog some memories,” he said hopefully.
I smiled at him. “Thank you. Um, I was wondering though, what are you?”
“You don’t even know that much?” he scoffed playfully. His good humor had returned. “I’m a Sprite, a forest Sprite to be precise.”
“Cool,” I remarked. “Are you from the same place we are?”
“Indeed, I am.”
It appeared I lived among some remarkable creatures in this alternate reality. “So, what am I?”
Kaido took a deep breath, hesitating slightly. “You are a Winter Phoenix. I, on the other hand, am a Summer Phoenix.”
My mouth gaped. Given my body’s odd behaviour of late, this should have been easy to believe. It was not. “Are you trying to tell me that we control the weather?”
“Not exactly,” Kaido corrected. “We keep the balance. You may have noticed it has been rather warm here despite it being winter?”
I nodded in affirmation and Kaido continued. “That is because you were not here. Together, you and I, along with the spring and fall Phoenixes, maintain equilibrium between the seasons. Without one of us, the weather changes accordingly. We did not have our winter Phoenix, therefore the weather remained warm.”
My suspicions had been right. I was connected to the weather, as outrageous as that sounded. “If that is the case, why has it not cooled down since I came back?”
“You are an embodiment of winter – an embodiment of winter that does not remember who she is and hence, winter does not remember how to be winter. It is not your fault, my love,” he was quick to reassure me when he saw the worry and guilt on my face.
I was crestfallen. It suddenly became imperative that I remember and I motioned Kaido to go on, listening intently, hanging on every word he said as he went on to tell me about my past. Some twenty-seven years ago, I had experienced my first rebirth which made me young for a Phoenix. Instead of dying, Phoenixes burst into flames and are then reborn from the ashes, making us immortal in a roundabout way. Kaido had been through two rebirths which meant he was still young as well. We had been lovers. That much I had surmised for myself but still, to hear it confirmed made my cheeks heat up.
“So, we’ve ah, we’ve…” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence although Kaido knew full well what I was trying to say.
“We have,” he replied silkily.
My whole body flushed crimson which Kaido and Larken found quite hilarious. Apparently, I was not usually so shy.
It was at this point in the story, Kaido paused and a deep melancholy clouded his mood. “This is where things went very wrong.”
“What happened to me?” I asked gently.
“Phoenixes have the ability to shape shift into human form. It has not always been this way. It is a skill we developed over time to fit in more with our human neighbours. But God did not make us to live exclusively as a human. If we remain in the human form for too long, we fall ill. Sound familiar?”
It most certainly did. Everything was slowly coming together, like pieces of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, although his mention of God surprised me a little. I guess the big man upstairs really was God of all; even supposed myths and legends.
After a moment, he went on. “Phoenixes like to keep their rebirths secret so when it is time, we will go off somewhere on our own. Not even our closest loved ones know where. For some reason, during the rebirth, you decided to send your spirit to a human and I could no longer sense you as I once had. Half of me died that day. I searched everywhere for you. Then, a while ago, I began to feel something tickling at the edges of my consciousness. At first, I thought I was imagining it but it grew stronger and I knew that it was you. The connection was not strong enough for me to track you but I was able to send you dreams to show you where to find me.”
“Those dreams were from you?” I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that. I’d thought I’d come here of my own volition but instead, it turned out I had been beguiled and lured here. “You brought me here! What if I didn’t want to come? Did you ever stop to think about what I wanted? Maybe I disappeared for a reason!” I began pacing angry lines across the floor.
“My only thought was to help you, to show you the way back home,” Kaido explained sincerely as the corners of his mouth turned down. “I did not think you would wish to remain hidden.”
Immediately, I regretted my harsh words. “I’m sorry, Kaido. It’s just that, I thought I had come here on my own, that I had planned this new start.”
Kaido seemed confused. “You did. I did not force you. You could have ignored the dreams if you wanted to.”
Now I was confused. “Ignore them! I could ignore them as easily as I could ignore the sun or the moon! I could not get enough of those dreams. I knew they held answers to what was happening to me and the pull was so strong I could not resist!”
“They were your own feelings.” Kaido’s face brightened. “A part of you must have started to remember me for it to be like that.”
I relaxed, glad that I had not been a puppet after all. There was still one thing Kaido had not explained to me – why was I able to feel the emotions of others and, there was also the incident with the bear.
When I asked the question, Kaido nodded. “I was coming to that. We Phoenixes are extremely sensitive to each other and to everything and everyone around us. We are kindred spirits with every living thing, even humans despite their lack of affinity for us. The bear was simply greeting a friend. Also,” he added, “I had spread the word that you may have returned and asked if all forest creatures could keep a look out. When I saw that bear greet you, my heart nearly leapt into my throat. Your human form has changed since last I saw it so, I could not be sure it was you until you turned around and looked at me with those glorious eyes. Your hair and eyes have remained the same.”
I ducked my head self-consciously under his piercing scrutiny. “Oh!” I exclaimed, suddenly remembering something I had to ask. “Were you watching me one day? It was months ago now. I was walking in the forest and the distinct feeling of being watched hit me. I didn’t see who or what it was but I found a feather, a dark red feather. The wind whisked it away before I could grab it and it almost seemed to beckon me to follow it. Was that you?”
“Ah,” Kaido recalled. “That is what you meant yesterday when you asked if I was there. No, it was not me. I did not lay eyes on you until yesterday. The watcher you are referring to was Aski, a Fall Phoenix. He was one of the first to spot you.”
“Does any of this jog your memory?” Larken piped up abruptly.
I sighed heavily. “Not really.”
“Perhaps if I tell of you of our friendship,” Larken wondered aloud.
“Please do,” I encouraged him. “I would like to know.”
Larken had me laughing with all the silly antics we used to get up to. Apparently, we had become fast friends from the moment we had met. “How could I have forgotten such a wonderful life? How could I forget each of you?”
“We know of ten cases where the same has happened. Ten documented cases in all our history. Of course, there could be more that we missed,” Kaido admitted, “however, Phoenixes tend to be rather good at keeping track of history.”
“What happened to these others?”
Kaido shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, as far as we can ascertain, there were various causes. Grief was a major contributor. Sometimes, when a Phoenix experiences profound grief, it can trigger a rebirth, almost as though they burn up from the agony of heart break. The theory is that they seek to escape the pain and so plant their consciousness into a human.”
“Was I grieving?”
“Not that I was aware of.”
“Nor I,” Larken added.
“What happened to them afterwards? Did they all regain their memories?” I needed to know what my own outcome would be, no matter what it was.
“The outcome was different for all although, those who were bonded with their mate had significantly better recoveries than those who had not.”
“Love,” Kaido said with a shrug. “Pure, simple, unadulterated love. When Phoenixes mate, they mate for life and the bond between the two is unbreakable, no matter what situation either of them is in. It was that bond between us that brought you here.”
Kaido’s eyes were steaming with molten lava as he studied me. I didn’t know how much longer I could resist and I could see the strain that it was putting on Kaido as well. But it wasn’t time for that yet. I didn’t know if that time would ever come. Firstly, I had to remember. I lifted my chin in determination.
“So, how do I remember?”
Larken clapped his hands while Kaido merely smiled, those fiery eyes never leaving mine. “Stay with me.” It wasn’t a question but it was not an order either. It was a request, one I could not possibly reject when spoken in a deep, sultry voice, husky with emotions. Unable to speak, I nodded at him.
“This is excellent!” Larken jumped up and pulled me into his arms. “You have made me very happy. I have missed my friend but I have no doubts that Kaido will bring your memories out. He will not give up and neither will I,” he vowed.
I stood on tip toes and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Larken. I can see why I would be friends with someone like you.”
He nodded vigorously. “I am definitely amazing,” he said with a wink and a chuckle. “I’ll leave you two to get started. Have fun!”
We said our goodbyes and then it was just me and Kaido. The tension and heat in the air was palpable.
“Lei… Eirwin, I…”
I crossed the rug to kneel in front of him. Taking his hands in mine I stared up at him imploringly. “Help me remember?”
Kaido stood and pulled me up with him. Cupping my face in his soft hands he gently kissed me. “Of course.”
The kiss made my head whirl in bliss and I laughed. “We’d better make it fast!”