Igbo: Ụlọ nke nkeji nke asaa
The land bloomed with life, every sprout and flower brimming with magic. The tree at the core breathed new beings into the world, ones that flew on the wind, and others that swam in the seas. There were dragons who ruled over fire, and devils who danced in the flames, but above all, the greatest number of creatures were those who shared the earth with the great tree,
The creatures of the world shared in its magic. They sparkled and sang, and they spread wonder wherever they went. They carried on the song and tune of the world, eon after eon, until all knew the song of the world.
Harmony prevailed for ages uncounted. How it broke is as lost to shadows as the furthest reaches of the land. Some blame demons for disrupting the song, others say it is why the vampires were cursed with the need to seek blood. Whatever the cause, the world created by music and magic came to need more in order to be sustained.
Stefan sat cross-legged on my bed. He watched me walk to the window with Chopin, watch me close and lock it once she was gone, and watched me pull the curtains before turning back to him. His emotions must have been such a storm inside him– worry, confusion, frustration, even one or two that I couldn’t quite place. I sat on my bed and leaned back on the foot-board.
“What is this?” he asked, holing up the parchment. It sounded like he was having a hard time keeping his tone gentle. I wished I wasn’t the cause of him being so upset.
“It’s… part of a ballad.” There was no harm in telling him that much, right? I really didn’t want to lie to him.
He sighed and looked back at it. I didn’t know what it said yet, but he was confused by it. “Was it written just for you?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not about you… It’s more like something you’d write when you’re world-building, but it’s being given to you, so you didn’t write it.”
“Oh, it’s not custom or anything,” I replied, trying to keep my tone reassuring. “It’ just a translation of something older.”
“An older ballad with vampires and dragons?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Va– what?!” How in the world was I going to explain that? “Could I…”
I reached for the paper. He placed it in my hand. His expression was stern– he didn’t want to be lied to at all– and still very confused. I read the stanzas of the ballad that Evander had sent. they mostly made sense in relation to what I’d read so far, though the fact that Tierney Ríocht actually had vampires was a surprise. Dragons I should have expected, but vampires? Why couldn’t any of this be easy?
“So you think it’s weird, too,” he said as he watched me.
“Heh… yeah…” I shook my head as though it would clear away all confusion. “There is definitely a mystery to unravel there.”
He stared at me. I knew his mind was racing. He probably knew that I was deliberately saying very little in order to play it safe, and that was reason enough to be suspicious. How was I going to calm him down?
“Okay, Leila, how about one of the things we do tomorrow is visit the person with this weird ballad? It sounds like it would be interesting to see the original work.”
“At least think about it, Leila.” His tone was gentler now, and though his tension was quickly draining away. “I’d like to meet whoever is translating this for you. If you’ve made friends with someone who can send messages by carrier owl, I want to know them, too.”
“Yeah…” I agreed, trying not to sound too nervous. “I’ll have to give them a call and see what we can arrange.”
Stefan gave me a smile. It was a weak one, like he was trying extra hard to put up a strong front, but at least he wasn’t quite so upset. Then he slid off the bed.
“Thanks, Leila,” he said. “Just remember that no matter where you move, we still want to be involved and know about your life, okay?”
“Of course.” I smiled back and moved closer to him. “Are you going to bed now?”
He nodded, although he seemed a little distracted and uncertain. “Yeah,” he sighed. He glanced down at my arm, and I felt glad that my pajama shirt was long-sleeved. “I’ll help you make breakfast, okay? And we can talk more?”
“Sure, I wouldn’t mind some help,” I replied, hoping my smile would lighten his mood even more. “Is there something you didn’t want to say with Killian and Larsa around?”
“I–” he rubbed his face with his hands, then shook his head. “No, it’s nothing like that. I just like hearing about what’s going on in your life.”
I smirked; wouldn’t he be surprised if he knew that ‘what was going on in my life’ meant my house randomly giving me access to a world where centaurs and werewolves are real? He would hardly believe it even if he went there, and that was nowhere close to happening. I hopped off the bed and wrapped my arms tightly around him. My head rested on his chest, which was still warm from the shower.
“I’m so glad you drove all this way, Stefan!” I told him. “having friends here for my birthday is just what I wanted.”
He returned the hug. “I’d drive across the country to see you, Leila.”
“Oh, really?” I asked in a playful tone
“Yeah, really. I’d fly over the ocean, sail over the sea…”
“Dig through the center of the earth?”
He chuckled. “Well, it has to actually be possible to do.”
“Okay, I see how it is,” I teased. I released the hug and smiled up at him. “I suppose we can be best friends anyway. But–”
“Oh, there’s a ‘but’?”
“Just listen!” I laughed. “You need to get some sleep. And so do I.”
He held my hand as we walked to the doorway, where he stopped. He smiled down at me. I smiled up at him. His blue eyes were so bright, like the sky on a clear day. I could lie in the grass for hours and stare up at a sky like that. There was so much beauty in that blue…
I realized that I’d gotten lost in a reverie when I felt Stefan’s fingers under my chin. He was a few inches closer to me. His eyes…
“Good night, Leila,” he murmured, leaning down slightly to kiss the top of my head. It was the briefest gesture, nothing that one might read into. I mean I shouldn’t, right? “May your dreams be peaceful and beautiful.”
“Y-you, too,” I replied. He was already walking across the hall to his room.
He stopped in his doorway and gave me a sort of half smile. “Thanks, Leila,” he said, though his voice didn’t sound all that hopeful. “I have a feeling, though, that my dreams are going to be a bit more… primal.”
He didn’t give me a chance to ask what he meant, though; he closed the door to his room without another sound, and I followed suit.