Kaido illustriously gave me the grand tour of the castle. Every now and then, a fuzzy picture would come to mind, small things such as the two of us talking about something or a meal we had eaten in a certain room. We had lived here together for quite some time before my disappearance and it had the comfortable vibe of being a warm, happy place.
“This next room was your favorite.” Kaido led me to a large room and when we entered, my body froze.
In the back corner stood an ornate grand piano, its dusky wood gleaming as though it had been freshly polished. Around the edges of the room were tables and chairs and off to one side was a small anteroom with comfortable lounge chairs. A set of double, glass-windowed doors opened out onto a long balcony that overlooked a gorgeous, flower filled garden. The centre of the room was empty and obviously used for dancing. It was a ballroom.
Kaido walked up to the piano and stroked its top fondly. “You would sit and play for hours. Such beautiful music would pour forth through your fingers. It was mesmerizing.” He sat down on the plush stool and beckoned me to join him. Warily, I did so. Was he going to ask me to play? As far as I could remember, I never played a piano in my life. “Over the years you were gone it was both a comfort and a torment for me to come in here. Your presence was still so strong, especially when I would play.”
Reverently, his long, deft fingers began pressing down on the keys and euphonic tones began to fill the room. At first, the mood was somber. In the lachrymose notes, I could sense Kaido’s anguish at being separated from me. It was gut-wrenching and I clutched at my heart in remorse. Then, when I thought I could take no more of the agony, my hands seemed to move of their own accord and I watched in horror as they began to play, matching Kaido’s skillful tunes. I tried to stop only to find that I could not and as I continued to play, the music morphed into something more upbeat, exultant even. We played in such perfect harmony. Kaido was ecstatic. A look of amazement, wonder and pleasure painted his face and despite my reluctance, I couldn’t help but be caught up in his enthusiasm. My stomach clenched as the melody washed through me but it was not clenching in pain. For the first time in months, the music did not hurt me. Instead, the emotion welling up inside me was joy. I was so overcome that I began to cry tears of happiness. Together, we brought the song to a close and for several minutes we sat there in silence. There was really no need to speak as we could each feel the other so keenly. I could not tell where Kaido ended and I began. We were both breathing hard and almost on instinct, we reached zealously for each other. Kaido pulled me onto his lap and held me firmly against him. I snuggled into his embrace and let my tumultuous emotions run free, laughing and crying at the same time. Something magical had just happened and my poor soul was struggling to comprehend the magnificence of it.
“I don’t even know how I did that,” I cried between guffaws and sniffles. “When I started falling ill, music became unbearable for me to hear. The vibes and sentiment were too much.”
“I know. We feel our emotions on a far greater level than humans.” He gently caressed my cheek and wiped my tears. “You loved this room for another reason also.”
I froze again, knowing what he was going to say. With great difficulty, I spoke first. “Dancing?” It appeared there was no escaping my passion for dancing. Even in my other life it had been important to me.
“You would dance with such grace and elegance. I could have watched you forever. You danced for me quite often,” he informed me with a touch of cheekiness.
I scowled at him, but only in jest, giving him a playful shove.
Grinning, he jumped up off the stool and moved towards one of the walls. With a touch of his hand, a panel in the wall slid back to reveal a modern stereo. He pressed a button and music once more permeated the room. Eyes bright with anticipation, Kaido offered me his hand. “May I have this dance?”
My hands trembled. Was I ready for this? He waited patiently while I silently waged a violent, internal war. “I… I…” I stammered. The panic was rising again. I couldn’t do it. My shoulders slumped dejectedly. Yet again, I was hurting the man who been nothing but kind to me. Why couldn’t I just remember?
Kaido placed a finger under my chin and tilted my head up. His handsome face was soft with sympathy. He knew exactly what I was feeling. Hastily, he turned off the music and came to sit beside me, straddling the stool so that he could face me. “I am sorry, Leira. My hopes got the better of me. Forgive me?”
“Of course. It’s me who should be apologizing.” I hung my head sadly.
“Nonsense. Though perhaps, if you feel the need to make it up to me, you will allow me to take a raincheck?” His eyes sparkled impishly and I knew he was trying to cheer me. I wished I could say yes, absolutely another time, but I could not even say that. The mere thought of dancing – especially dancing with Kaido – sent me into overdrive, though my body yearned to be held by him. I was awash with conflicting emotions. Not for the first time, I wished I could ignore them or at least control them. There had to be a way to distract myself from this torment. I wanted him yet feared to be with him, I longed to dance yet feared to dance; so many opposing emotions. I felt like I would soon split into a million pieces. Was there a way to force them into some sort of order? Was there another trigger just waiting for me to find that would be my saving grace? Kaido moved to kiss me on the cheek but I quickly turned my head so that his lips landed on mine. I needed this. I needed to feel something tangible, something I could not question. For the first time since arriving at this castle, I gave in to my lust. I wanted to be closer to him. Barely breaking the kiss, I turned to straddle the stool as he did, dragging myself closer until I could wrap my legs around him. He groaned softly as I deepened our kiss and I could taste the fervor of his lust as his hands reached for my hips, attempting to draw me closer still. My hands slipped themselves into his silky hair, my fingers running through its length. With a sigh, Kaido reluctantly pulled back.
“Leira,” he whispered. “Oh, my Leira.” His breath came is halting gasps. “You are really here.” He sounded amazed. “It can be dangerous out there for a solitary phoenix. There are humans and other creatures who will murder us on sight.” Kaido’s distress was evident. “That is the only way we can die. I was so afraid you had been lost to me forever,” he whispered against my hair. “And although I would very much like this to continue, you are not ready. You just needed a distraction and I do not want to take advantage of your vulnerability.”
As much as I did not want to admit it, he was right. I could never hide anything from him. It was a comfort and an inconvenience as, I wasn’t entirely sure I would have regretted it if things had progressed. With a last look at the ballroom, I took Kaido’s offered hand and we continued our tour.
For the next several days we spent every spare minute together. We would go for long walks in the forest and he would tell me of the creatures who lived there; fairies, elves, sprites and even unicorns habited this alternate Nantahala. Larken visited often, always with a new story to tell me about our misadventures yet, despite their best efforts, my memories remained fuzzy. The days turned into weeks and I began to worry that we were attempting the impossible. Kaido and I were lamenting over this while we sat relaxing on a picnic rug in the quaint little garden behind the castle, when an idea occurred to him.
“There is one thing we have not tried. I thought of it earlier but did not mention it as I was not sure you were ready. Now, I cannot think of anything else.”
“Tell me.” At this point, I was willing to try almost anything. The fuzzy memories were becoming annoying and they were giving me headaches. It was like I was trying to chase shadows. I could always see them just there in front of me but could never catch them.
“We could try to get you to shift into your Phoenix form,” he suggested.
My breath caught in my chest and I felt my stomach plummet to the ground. “Why… why would that help?” I sputtered.
“My thought is that maybe the shift will trigger not just a physical change but a psychological change also, thereby unlocking your memories.”
The idea sounded plausible; except there was one problem. “How do I make myself change?”
“Usually it is done by applying thought and willpower. Are you willing to try?”
I could see the fragile hope lingering behind his calm demeanor. This whole thing had to be hurting him and yet he never rushed or pushed me. I had to try. I owed him that much at least. I swallowed my fear and nodded. He took my hand and kissed it.
“My brave Eirwin,” he uttered with pride. “I will try to talk you through it. Close your eyes and relax.”
I did as he said and tried to block out everything but the sound of his voice as he instructed me to envision myself in my Phoenix form. Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, I could not remember my Phoenix form. I tried to picture myself covered in the feathers I had seen begin to sprout from my skin and superimpose that onto an image of Kaido as a Phoenix. It was not enough. Growling in frustration, I opened my eyes.
“I can’t! I can’t do it. I can’t even remember myself in Phoenix form so how am I supposed to picture it.” My energy gave out and I dropped like a wilted flower in despair.
Kaido on the other hand, did not appear discouraged. “It is only your first attempt. Do not give up so easily, my love.” He tapped a long, slender finger to his chin, thinking. “You need a trigger.”
“That’s what happened the other times. It was like my body just responded automatically. I really didn’t even have time to think about anything,” I recalled drearily.
“We need a catalyst. Something strong enough to bring out the full change and, you will have to allow it to happen. If you try to block it as you did in the past, it will not work,” Kaido warned me. “Your body knows what to do. It just has to be pushed a little.”
I admired Kaido’s persistence and unwavering dedication. “What do you propose?”
“Let us see if my own change will provoke you again. Remember, do not fight it this time.” He got to his feet and, like before, Kaido was once again immersed in a burst of flames. When it dissipated, there he was in his glorious Phoenix form. It was as enthralling as it was the first time. I reached out a hand to stroke his resplendent feathers and he made a noise deep in his throat, nuzzling into my hand. Emotions welled up inside me and I tried to let go, tried to surrender to them so that the change would find no obstacles in its way. Nothing happened. I closed my eyes, focusing on the feel of Kaido’s downy feathers beneath my hand, willing the change to come. Still nothing. I sensed Kaido shift back to his human form and before I could open my eyes I was pulled sharply into his arms. My arms twined themselves around his taut middle and my head nestled against his chest. I could hear his heart beat and I savoured the sound. Since the incident in the ballroom, we had tried to keep our distance as much as we could. We both agreed it was probably for the best until my memories returned. However, the connection between us deepened the more time we spent together and it grew harder and harder to hold onto decency. Even if we were apart, I knew exactly where he was. I could feel him there constantly, as though a piece of him was literally living inside me. It was a pleasant reassurance that I was never alone, that I would never be incomplete again, and I began to wonder how I had ever lived without it. I felt amazing and so incredibly alive. Finally, the internal wound no longer ached, the persistent chill was melted into a warm, soothing balm that pumped and flowed and pulsed through my blood. What I failed to realise, however, was that I had fallen hopelessly and inescapably in love with this man. In fact, I had loved him from the moment I first saw him. I just had not known it at the time. This sudden revelation burst violently in my heart and knocked the breath from my lungs with brutal force. I felt Kaido tense and draw in a sharp breath as he, too, felt my epiphany. Pulling back, I gazed up into his face. His eyes, simpering with salacity, met mine and I could hold back no longer. With tears tracing their way down my cheeks, I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him hard on the mouth. There was no stopping me this time. He returned my kiss with rapacious need as I let all the love I had trapped inside me reveal itself. Both breathless, Kaido separated our lips just long enough to gently lay me down on the picnic rug. He didn’t say anything; he didn’t have to for me to know the question that he dearly wanted to ask. There was no hesitation. I knew exactly what I wanted and it was high time I got it. How much time passed, I didn’t know, nor did I care. I bared all; let my heart throw its doors wide open and held nothing back. He deserved everything I could give so I gave him everything I had. Never had I known such ecstasy or such a sweet, unrelenting and ravenous desire. It was intoxicating on the most delectable level. We fed and fed, drinking each other in until our heads spun in drunken euphoria. After, as we lay panting in each other’s arms, I said the words I knew Kaido had been yearning to hear.
“I love you.”
Tears flowed freely down his cheeks. “My precious, sweet Leir… Eirwin. I love you.”
I smiled. “Leira,” I whispered. “My name is Leira.”
In the next instant, my body was heaving. Feathers began to sprout from my skin and I cried out in both surprise and joy. Kaido stared at me, eyes wide but I wasn’t looking at him. I couldn’t even see him. Instead, I was watching image after image flash through my mind like a movie – five hundred years of memories.
“I remember!” The words were a mighty roar.
Transfixed, I waited for the one memory that would explain where I had gone; the memory both Kaido and I wanted to know the most. Eventually, it came. “Ooooooh,” I breathed.
“What it is? Are you alright?” I still could not see him, but I could feel him. His warm hands wrapped around mine as I told him what had happened; how I had been drawn to the agonizing cries of a tiny baby girl, alone and hungry in the arms of her deceased mother and how I had wanted to help her. Tears again streamed down my cheeks as I remembered that little life slipping away and how my memories had slipped away with it. Sobbing out my apologies to Kaido, I felt him kiss my hands.
“I would have expected you to do nothing less, my darling.” I could sense the pride behind his words and I beamed with pleasure, My heart blossomed as I realised how much I was truly loved. I was so lucky. My tears turned from pain to joy and I laughed in jubilation as my body convulsed one last time, completing the change. I felt the power behind my newfound wings – wings the same colour as my hair. I flexed, stretching them wide. They had not been used for a long time and were eager to fly. On the edges of my awareness, I sensed Kaido changing form beside me. My wings flapped impatiently, wanting to touch the sky except I still couldn’t see beyond the barrage of pictures working their way into my mind, demanding to be seen. Finally, everything became still and standing in the place where two human forms had only moments ago been lost in the throes of passion, were two striking, elegant birds. Kaido made a sound of pure contentment as he nuzzled his face to mine. Playfully, I nipped at the feathers on his neck, as I had done so many times before and took off into the heavens. I twirled and dipped, dancing on air as I arched graceful patterns across the twilight sky. Soaring higher and higher, I felt the last vestiges of my wounded soul sigh in peace. It was whole once more. I was whole once more.
“Kaido, my love. Come dance with me.”
Beautiful music floated through the air. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the trees adding their own unique melody. It was the perfect moment. My wedding dress draped my body in brilliant, winter-white with shimmering, silver snowflakes weaving intricate patterns along the skirt and bodice, matching the snowflake tiara I wore in my hair. A sun stone blazed from its place on a white gold pendant around my neck; the colour of summer and the colour of my beloved Kaido. It was his wedding gift to me. Encircling his neck was a cord from which hung a glistening moonstone – the colour of winter and my wedding gift to him. His suit was white, trimmed with orange and he wore an orange shirt. We were Summer and Winter, together at long last. As the trees and all manner of creatures watched on – even Angie was there – Kaido stretched out his hand to me. Trembling, and with racing heart, I gently placed my hand in his. He pulled me into his arms, kissed me upon the lips and then we began to move in rhythmic, flowing motions. The tension melted away. I was dancing with my beloved for the first time as a human since my memories had returned. We had flown together several times, dancing on air, but this was different. It was in that instant that I knew I had truly returned. Life was finally complete.