Michigan Avenue was a paragon of everything American. Shopping, tourism, high-end business – it was the perfect combination of everything that most thought a city should be. Add to that a beautiful, sunny spring day, and it made you glad to be alive.
I wasn’t walking on air - I was walking on concrete in four-inch Manolos and it still felt comfortable. After a day in conference rooms, a high-pressure business lunch, and just life, there wasn’t a speck on my black dress, either. If that didn’t sum up the day, I don’t know what could. I took it all in through extra-dark sunglasses as I walked the last block toward Michigan Advertising’s main office. I’d just had a very successful meeting with the Cox Clothing Conglomerate.
I felt like more than a million bucks.
The daughter of a retired Air Force pilot, I always noticed things flying through the sky. Post 9/11, we didn’t see a lot of aircraft in downtown Chicago except for the occasional helicopter. The black shape heading South down the centerline of the avenue looked like a fighter of some sort at first, which made it even further out of place.
I’d heard a lot of engines in a young lifetime spent on Air Force bases. Big, small, or somewhere in between, there was always supposed to be engine noise along with something flying. It was a rule, and a good one at that.
It helped the world to make sense.
I blame the absence of any sound for bringing me to a stop in the middle of the crowded sidewalk. It was an eerie quiet, like comes in any horror movie before a bad guy leaps out from nowhere and murders the damsel.
Acknowledging my own likeness to a damsel right then, I’m not going to say I didn’t get more than a little nervous.
The cackle that filled the air made every single thing worse.
You just didn’t hear a witch’s cackle on Michigan Avenue.
It wasn’t a fat tourist, a Halloween decoration, or an over-loud movie clip. It was a witch’s cackle, and it was coming from the quickly approaching black shape that I hadn’t quite been able to make out.
I couldn’t move.
There was a damn witch flying right toward me.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but this wasn’t the sort of thing that I dealt with on an average day. Once she got closer, I made out green skin and a black cat riding casually on the end of her broom. With a wide-brimmed pointed hat, there wasn’t much face to make out, but I’d swear that what was there had yellow eyes and a wart on the end of her nose with hair coming out of it.
“Francesca Leone! The streets of Chicago and the garb of humanity can’t hide you from my wrath!” She pulled a gnarled length of wood from within her billowing robes, centering the end between my eyes. “In the name of the Eternal Sisterhood, I curse you for all time!”
Honestly, I kind of thought her magic had fizzled out as I didn’t see more than a faint green cloud of smoke expel from the end of the stick she’d pointed at me. Her cat’s pained growl made it clear something beyond my own understanding had gone on. It did hit me, blowing my dress back, not unlike the afternoon breeze you’d expect from the East.
The green light was another matter – it filled my vision, blocking everything wonderful out of my sight and my mind. It was more than enough to make it clear I had a problem, even if I had no idea what it really was.
Grass. I couldn’t think of why there was grass on Michigan Avenue, and that’s when I opened my eyes to find I wasn’t on Michigan Avenue anymore. My dress had also changed to what was either tan colored to begin with or just a dirty white.
Sunglasses and briefcase gone…
My last thought from before the witch’s green light rolled through my mind – I hope it’s not a dragon next…
I stood awkwardly, not expecting the flat sandal-like shoes I was in.
I always wore heels…
A suggestion of a trail in front of me represented an easy decision. A dark forest stood between me and imposing mountains to my left, while a village dominated by a towering but otherwise friendly looking castle sat alongside the coast down the incline to my right.
“Hello,” I said, probably sounding dismissive to the blond woman dressed similar to me. She was picking tomatoes in the garden beside a stone house with thatched roof.
“We don’t see your kind often.”
“Travelers from beyond the forest.”
“It looked a little rough that way,” I admitted. “Can you tell me where I am?”
Concern filled her eyes. “Were you hurt on your journey?”
“Not exactly. I was taken against my will. I’ve only now escaped my captor.” It wasn’t entirely untrue.
“You poor dear,” She rushed forward, supporting me as though I might fall. “Let me bring you inside. We’ll have some food.”
“You’re very kind,” I said, knowing I had no better option. “My name is Francesca Leone.”
“Leone?” The woman said. “Are you a child of the king?”
“I… I bumped my head. I’m having problems remembering much of anything.”
“Oh you poor dear! Come inside and I’ll take care of you. My husband Trell isn’t home, but he won’t mind.”
“Is he working?” I asked. My host pulled back a substantial chair from a heavy table inside her surprisingly well-appointed home. “I haven’t even asked your name. I feel bad accepting your kindness.”
I watched as she drew water from a bucket with a rough-formed wood cup and set it in front of me. “My name is Shrell, and my husband is the armorer for King Leone.”
“This is going to sound odd, but I need to know something. Have you ever heard of a green-skinned witch?”
Shrell nodded slowly. “The woods between here and the mountains is said to be the domain of the Eternal Sisterhood. It is said they prowl lands far beyond the Kingdom of Leone, looking for souls to curse.”
“I can vouch for that,” I whispered.
“What?” Shrell asked as she sat another cup and two plates of oatmeal-looking paste on the table. “I’m sure you’re hungry.”
I wasn’t, and the look of the food took away the need for meals I hadn’t yet had, but there was no way I was going to pass up a meal. Especially now, I didn’t want to appear unappreciative of hospitality.
At least not until I gained some idea of my circumstances…
“Has anyone ever been into the forest?”
“Exiles of the kingdom,” Shrell said. “Are you of the mountains?”
I thought for a minute and then spoke carefully. “There’s a city in a far-away land called Chi-town. It’s across the water and very far. I was thrown off in a storm, and found myself waking not far from your home.”
“It almost sounds like magic.”
“It does,” I agreed. “Are there armies standing against King Leone?”
Shrell shook her head emphatically. “No.”
“Then who does your husband work to arm King Leone against?”
“Dragons,” Shrell answered far more calmly than I would have.
I’ve never been good at sleeping in someone else’s home, and the horsehair mattress Shrell and Trell had provided me was no different. Moreover, the sounds drifting from the distance through the open window sounded exactly like I would have imagined a dragon.
It seemed so irrational, but the fact that all evidence indicated I’d been cursed here by a witch seemed to give my fears a certain validity. I definitely wanted to sleep – if I could close my eyes and wake up to find this was just a bad dream, it would be the best thing ever.
But I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be that easy.
As nice as they were, I couldn’t stay with Shrell and Trell forever. If nothing else, their names were going to drive me crazy. I could either head for the forest and confront the possibility of facing the Eternal Sisterhood, or head deeper into the Kingdom of Leone and see if my name might buy me some kindness.
And either way, there were dragons…
“Why don’t the dragons attack the witches of the Sisterhood, if they’re so fierce?”
Trell smiled in response. “They don’t taste good.”
I walked alongside him quietly for several minutes. “Does the army of Leone fight the dragons often?"
“Mostly just under the harvest moon. It’s the one time of year the dragons wander outside of their usual territory seeking more food.”
“Do they find it?”
Trell nodded. “More every year. Dark days are ahead.”
“When is the harvest moon?”
“This is the armory I work in”.
I could hear sounds of hammers meeting forged iron, men’s grunts, and fires burning before he opened the door unleashing heat like I’d never felt. “When is the next harvest moon?”
“Tomorrow,” said a mountain of a man leading an entourage that had functionally appeared behind us out of nowhere.
Trell fell to one knee. He grabbed me by both hands and pulled me down seconds later when I didn’t automatically follow.
“Prince Leone,” Trell said with his head down. “Welcome.”
“Who is this… Woman?” The Prince’s tone confirmed the displeasure in his face.
Trell stuttered. “This is Francesca Leone, a visitor from Chi-town. It’s far away, across the ocean.”
The Prince fell to one knee himself, bowing low in front of me. “Frankie! My long-lost sister! I never thought to see you after Bathsheilda banished you as a child.”
“Bathshielda?” I wanted to snicker at the name but held my tongue.
“The Epic of the Eternal Sisterhood. She took you from us as a baby – I’m not surprised you don’t remember.”
“Is this Bathsheilda still alive?”
“We avoid the sisters whenever possible,” Prince Leone said. “We’ve fallen into something of an uneasy truce. We stay out of the forest. They don’t banish us. It works.”
“Between the dragons and this sisterhood, I can’t see why anyone would cross into the forest,” I said.
“I can’t imagine what would be worth the danger.”
The Prince smiled. “Untold wealth, and good magic for all the world are said to await the person brave enough to climb the peaks of the mountains. It seems reason enough to try, doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean by good magic?” I asked with more than piqued attention.
“Nature is balanced, isn’t it?” He smiled. “For all the Eternal Sisterhood, the dragons, and the dark forest cast upon us, the riches of the mountains are to bring light.”
“So, is there a magician, then?” When the prince looked confused, I added, “Wizard?”
“That’s just it, no one knows. No one has ever survived to bring word back.”
“Yet,” the voice in my head told me as the truth of my future settled in my vision. “No one has survived yet.”
Refusing the Prince’s offer to visit the castle wasn’t going to be allowed to happen. Whether I felt it or not, he believed our bond was familial. That wasn’t something he was going to let me get around. Besides, we were basically at his back door. With that, I bid Trell warm thanks for his hospitality before a hug goodbye. I knew I’d never remember my way through the short but confusing series corridors and passages that led through a side door to the castle’s grand entry foyer.
The room was towering, with suits of armor lining the walls, red carpet, and a gigantic wood and iron chandelier suspended from chains high above our heads. I couldn’t help but notice the candles were impossibly bright, yet there was no accumulation of wax at the base of them.
I was about to ask about them, but the Prince spoke first. “We got tired of peasants falling off the ladders maintaining the chandeliers. We were buried in lawsuits - an incantation became much more cost effective.”
“Lawsuits? There’s a court system here?”
“We’re not heathens, you know!” He stopped abruptly. “Courts, Healers, Teachers, and Treasury, of course. The Kingdom of Leone is a modern, functioning society based on equality.”
I couldn’t stifle a giggle. “You sound like you’re about to sell me a condo.”
“Condo?” He asked, obviously confused.
Words escaped me. All of my impressions of this place were turning out to be wrong – they were progressive where I expected them to be undeveloped and steeped in ideas of magic and sorcery where I’d expected scientific understanding.
Finally, I managed, “In Chi-town, we have very large structures – maybe even the size of your castle, but not nearly as ornate. A single family might live in each section or room. It’s easier and cheaper to build one big structure than lots of little ones, and it takes up less space.”
“The sharing would also provide more protection to families,” the Prince said thoughtfully.
“I hadn’t really thought about that, but yes, a benefit of communal living is security.”
“We will try this. More of the people of Leone could be closer to the castle, making it easier to defend them.”
A picture of a lonely cabin in the dark forest formed in my mind. Overly modern, an image of an apartment building stood next to it. The people I imagined living there mirrored the structures themselves – one bright and cheerful while the other was antiquated and dark.
“Will dragons attack tomorrow?” I asked.
“It’s the harvest moon,” he answered, as if that bit of knowledge explained all that had happened to me by itself.
It wouldn’t have been a stretch to say the castle had a familiarity to it. It wasn’t déjà vu, but, at the same time, I knew the plush red carpet runner we were walking along led to the King’s throne room. It felt like the personification of all of the fantasy books I had read as a child.
“Do you remember our games?” The Prince asked.
“The games we played in these halls, sister. Escape the dragons, hide from the witches, and…” He made a dramatic flourish in the air, “My personal favorite, touched you last!”
“You mean, ‘tag’?”
After a sharp finger poke in the ribs, he ran off with unexpected childish glee.
I rolled my eyes, waiting as the internal struggle between my hope that he would stop and a serious desire to chase after him warred against each other. Giving into the baser instinct, I hurried after him.
The grizzly-bear sized mass of gray hair, silken robes and gold jewelry that wrapped around me and lifted me from the stone floor of the throne room caught me as unaware as Bathsheilda when she’d flown down the Magnificent Mile.
“Daughter! I knew you would return to us one day!”
The horse-hair mattress on my bed in Castle Leone was a comparative luxury, but it didn’t get the morning off to any more comfortable of a start. Lighting a candle in the dark is hard. Finding my way to the ‘toilet’ was harder, and I don’t even want to remember trying to dress in my traveling clothes.
Let’s just say it left me wishing for the relative discomfort of a bra and leave it at that.
The door to my room was heavy, fighting against the creaking cast-iron hinges that anchored the slab of hardwood to the cut stones that made up the chilly walls.
As loud as they were, the hinges weren’t loud enough to cover my scream as the flickering candlelight revealed the Prince’s face in the center of the doorway.
“I’m not sure breakfast is ready, but I’m sure the wenches can find us something, sister,” he said with a broad smile.
An unexplainable wave of déjà vu washed over me, hampering my ability to form words for more than a minute. “The pastry is always sweetest before the sun comes up.”
He gestured down the corridor, as if he’d known what was on my mind. In honesty, even I had no idea which way I was heading. The castle was a warren of halls and corridors – it would have been easy to be lost for a week. He fell into step beside me as soon as I’d started in the way he’d indicated.
“There will be no pastry today, Frankie. It doesn’t travel well, but I promise you – I won’t let us starve."
“Us? I wasn’t aware we were going anywhere.”
“Really? I was the moment I laid eyes on you.” His gait was relaxed. Comfortable… “You’re going looking for the wizard of the mountain, and you’ll confront the Eternal Sisterhood, dragons, and anything else in your path to do it.”
“So, there is a wizard…”
“There’s a long and dangerous quest in front of us to find out.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
The Prince pulled me to a halt in the middle of the corridor, not far from a bustling kitchen. “I know you don’t remember me, Father, or even this place. You’ve been gone so long, it’s not hard to understand, but I believe in our family enough for the both of us. I am your brother, and I can and will protect you.”
His words kindled unfamiliar warmth in my heart. Whatever it truly was, no success I’d enjoyed had brought the same feelings forward.
“I didn’t intend for you to do this – I didn’t even want you to know.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the wonderful aroma of the kitchen or the circumstances of the day that widened his smile. “Leones quest. Well, at least we’re supposed to quest. Father had the adventure that created this kingdom when he was my age. It’s my turn. As surely as Leones look out for each other, it’s my place to step forward into whatever’s ahead.”
“You’ll help me to leave this place? To go home?”
“Frankie, I will help you to be happy. You are my sister – my family. That’s all that is necessary for me to stand by your side as we meet witches, dragons, or whatever foulness the dark forest brings to stand in our way.
I watched as he picked up what appeared to be saddlebags off a sideboard of the cavernous space, throwing one over each shoulder. It was the first time I’d felt a sense of anticipation and comfort.
It felt disingenuous, but when I hoped it wouldn’t be the last time, I was both surprised and very pleased.
“He’s a Puffin,” the Prince said with a bit of a smile. “I’d do what he says.”
I looked down all six inches of deceptively loud man standing in front of me. “We don’t really have time for this.”
“Do what he says or lose your clothes!”
He snapped his fingers as soon as I tried to step over him, relieving me of my clothes before I could put my foot down. Squealing, I struggled to maintain my modesty as the Prince stepped forward.
“What if I entertained you with a riddle?”
“Riddle for clothes! Riddle for Clothes!”
“What’s brown and sticky?”
The small man looked thoughtful, and then inspired. He roared with a baritone rumble of laughter. “A stick!”
“If I give you a second riddle, will you give my sister back her clothes, please?”
“Riddle for clothes! Riddle for clothes!”
“How many puffins does it take to build a house?”
“As many as possible!” He laughed again. With an appraising and creepy look, he snapped his fingers and my dress and shoes reappeared in front of me.
“All of it, Puffin,” the Prince said.
The little guy looked defeated. With another snap, my underwear and bustier appeared on top of the pile. The puffin snapped once more, and popped out of existence.
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just entertain him?” The Prince asked. He stepped around behind me and started lacing me up. “Don’t worry. We used to bathe together.”
“I didn’t think anything so little could be so… Embarrassing.”
“Size isn’t a measure of power,” the Prince mocked with a stunning imitation of the Puffin’s voice.
The dragon’s roar was a cross between a lion’s roar and a jet engine. Wings flapped casually, making an effortless show of keeping the monster in the darkening sky above me. I had a knife in my hand, and no desire to run.
I knew that if I did, I would only die tired.
“Don’t move,” the Prince said. “If we stand still enough, it can’t see us down here.”
“Come on down here!” I stepped forward. “Let’s get on with this!”
Either fear or courage coursed through my veins.
There was no way I could have told which.
The dragon seemed to make up its mind, descending through the clouds.
“For battle come to me!” The Prince shouted as he jumped in front of me, clapping his hands together. Teeth bared wider than the dragon’s, he clapped his hands again and again, the noise rising like thunder.
“Get behind me!” The Prince shouted as he stepped forward. His steps quickened, and soon he was chasing the monster away, thunderclap hands echoing off of the trees.
I’d just taken a breath as I watched the red skin of the dragon disappearing against the night sky when I heard the cackle that would never leave my memories or my dreams.
“It’s good to have family, isn’t it, Francesca Leone?” Bathsheilda laughed as she replaced the dragon in the center of my vision. Her cat looked as though it must be glued in place – as far as I could tell, it was exactly where it had been when I’d first seen her on the Magnificent Mile. “The question is just that, dear Francesca. Is it good to have family? Or is it part of the curse of the Eternal Sisterhood?"
Cackling laughter echoed off of the trees as she followed the dragon into the distance. Green smoke like the exhaust from an airplane trailed behind her, marking her retreat.
“Put no stock in the hag’s words,” the Prince said as he turned toward me. “She’s only out to cause you pain.”
“Yes, forget Bathshielda. Why do people live in fear of the dragons if you can chase them off?”
“What?” the Prince asked.
“You heard me,” I said.
“No, I heard you. I was giving you the chance to change your tone with me, Francesca,” He snarled.
If he had magic. . .
I clenched my hands together and felt a fizzle like electricity course between them. I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but right then, rage had taken over as I turned around, squeezed my fists and pointed them at him. Strings of lightning shot out and knocked him over, just as I’d hoped.
Trudging off into the forest, I knew he wasn’t dead. It went without saying that he wasn’t going to be happy when he woke, either.
If he could chase the dragons off so easily, there was no reason for the denizens of Leone to live in fear of them. That meant only one thing – the Leones weren’t benevolent rulers. They kept the people of their kingdom captured on purpose.
I’d always had a problem with bullies.
I didn’t like them.
Everyone had a fundamental right to feel as good as possible about themselves, and to do it in freedom. Anyone who got in the way of that… well, needed to be gotten out of the way of that.
I thought about turning back several times, but I realized whatever magic I had, the Prince likely had more of. As much as I hated the idea of him, there was no point in confronting him just to get myself killed.
I needed the magic of the wizard of the mountains, or maybe I just needed to go home.
I stopped, looked down at my ridiculous dress, felt my hair swinging in the breeze, and wondered how much of a curse being here really was. I loved my life, but there was something about this place that I had fallen into quickly.
It even seemed stupid to me, but I pinched my arm. It hurt, and I didn’t jolt awake, which I supposed was proof all of this was really happening to me.
The clearing I found late in the afternoon was too tempting not to stop at. Ringed with berry bushes, it gave me a chance to take on more food. It was going to be a long trip to the still-distant mountains. I needed to be careful to take all of the provisions I could.
It wasn’t long before I had a visitor. The man that rode into the tall grass at the center of the clearing was dressed in leather that blended into the hair of his palomino horse. He came from the general direction I was heading, which made talking to him a must.
I tried the greeting Shrell used on me, hoping it was appropriate. “Hello, traveler!”
He cast about, his shock obvious. “You are of Leone.”
“How can you tell?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“Only royals are permitted to wear that green,” he said. “It is a forbidden color to others.”
“I was a guest in the castle. It was given to me there.” Not exactly untrue, anyway. “I’m on a quest to the mountains. Can you speak to me about what’s before me?”
“You seek the magic.”
I couldn’t tell whether it was a question or a statement. Either way, I wasn’t about to start off what could be a useful relationship with dishonesty. “I do. I’m not as sure why as I once was, but I seek the ability to help.”
I thought carefully. “I want to help whoever needs it.”
“Are you magical?” He asked me the question out of the blue – it was the first thing he’d said since we started climbing, and we were now almost a hundred feet up, by the looks of it.
“I am now,” I said, having taking an instant to decide that there was no point in lying to the guy that was anchoring your climbing rope.
“I had a feeling.” He wore no real expression he watched me pull myself up by my fingertips.
Far from the first time, I found myself thinking how much easier this might have been in shorts and a sports bra instead of the green velvet floor-length dress I still wore. As far as I could tell, multiple pairs of clothes were a luxury available only to the Prince and his father. . . my father?
“What gave you a feeling like that?” I asked.
“I’ve never met a magical, but I fancy they’d show us normal a kindness unlike any they’d seen.”
“It occurs to me that you’re the one showing the kindness,” I said as I pulled myself completely onto his ledge. “This has to be a long way out of your way. I want to thank you for backtracking to help me.”
“A track runs both directions. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is backward and which way is forward.”
A calloused hand pulled me fully to my feet.
He was like talking to my dad – the dad I remembered. Gods . . . This was getting confusing. There was no question I loved my dad, but there was a strange twinge of anticipation (and maybe fear) deep within me at the thought of really belonging in this place.
I thought about all that was behind me, both here and before the curse dropped – the lifetimes were stretching into equality quickly.
The camp carried and set up by the traveler was beyond anything I would have ever imagined. Ledge just wide enough for the tent appeared above us just as he said we’d be stopping soon – it was the most coincidental case of circumstance I’d seen in more than a while.
“Where are you from?” I asked him as we ate wafers and drank from a bamboo container of water.
“I’m of these mountains.”
I felt a truth in his answer – it went a long way toward explaining how he seemed so perfectly equipped to travel this path.
“I’d gathered the wizard was the only one here.”
“I wonder why everyone does that?”
“Thinks there is only one wizard.”
“Are there more?”
“Would you have ever thought witches were real?”
“Well, yes, actually.”
“Okay, you got me with that one.”
Traveler smiled triumphantly, leaning back onto his rock. “Trying to see a wider world has been a challenge I’ve learned to accept.”
“How do you support yourself? Do you gather what you need through your travels?”
“Somehow, it always appears when I need it. It’s not that I don’t work for the things I have, it’s that I don’t have anything that doesn’t work for me.”
I held any thoughts about how he was proving to be exactly the person I’d expected to find around here in my thoughts and asked, “Do you have family?”
“Not anymore, I’m afraid. Time and this world take their toll on some lives. My travels are all I have.”
“The question is, are your travels the only thing you want?”
“I’d be interested to know why that’s the question,” he laughed.
“Isn’t whether you have what you want in the world always the question?”
“Not where I traveled from,” he said.
“It’s okay, you know?” The traveler said as he boiled a pot for tea.
I couldn’t tell whether it was a question or a statement, honestly. “What’s that?”
“The fact that you see the world in one of two ways. You always have. Black, white, on, off, light, dark – you’ve never looked beyond the possibility that was in front of you. It’s acceptable. It’s actually anticipated – it’s the only way that you know how to be.”
“And you see the world differently?” I asked.
“Yes, Francesca, I do. It didn’t take a puffin stealing my clothes for me to realize there’s more out there in the world than business suits and Manolos.”
“You’re a magical?” I asked.
“Magical isn’t a race as much as an ability. It comes to us humans better than most, but as the puffin taught you, we’re not alone in our ability to harness the nether.”
“Is the Prince actually my brother?”
“Am I your father? Do you know who you are, Francesca?”
“I thought I did.” I believed I was an ad exec on the Magnificent Mile, living the life I’d come to love for myself through a little luck and a lot of damn hard work.
“Your beliefs have a nasty habit of becoming your reality, Francesca.”
“I guess there’s something to that. I never believed in dragons, witches, princes, and fairytales, but I seem to be caught in the middle of one, so… Yeah.”
Traveler didn’t seem to mind when I excused myself from his company and slid out through the canvas flap. More stars than I had ever seen twinkled overhead. Were it not for the clouds of smoke wafting into the moonlight in the direction of Leone, it might well have been the most fantastic view I’d ever experienced. Gentle, warm breezes filled the air with just a hint of the ocean, adding just enough unexpectedness to the night to truly take my breath away.
There was no way I couldn’t compare it to Chicago, and what I’d left behind. I wasn’t sure, just right then, that I’d been cursed in the traditional sense when I was brought here. While this place had its dangers, it was also truly stunning.
I didn’t stop to wonder about the red flashes amongst the trees far below, the silhouette of a woman on a broom that seemed to cross in front of the full moon, or the cackles and roars that accompanied both.
After all, I seemed to be wondering about everything.
“It is a question, isn’t it?” Traveler asked. I hadn’t noticed him moving up beside me.
“What to hope for? Where to go? It’s not a question, Traveler. It’s the question.”
“We’ll sleep soon, because that’s what we humans do. I have a cot for you – I have everything you need. As you lie down, I’ll remind you that when you dream, for a while, you lose the ability to decide where you are. You go only where your mind takes you through the stream of your own consciousness. It is, after all, what we humans do.”
“You’re a confusing fellow, you know that?”
He smiled. “It’s what we humans do, Francesca.”
“You also make it sound like it’s as easy as me just deciding who I want to be when I wake up.”
“There are limitations, of course, but how can you deny that deciding how to live your life is as easy as making the decision of which life to pursue when you open your eyes?”
“I never, ever, wanted to be anywhere other than where I was until I found myself in this place."
“Staying here isn’t without its dangers. Neither is living elsewhere. Decide with your dreams, Francesca.”
“You’re the Wizard of the Mountains.” It wasn’t a question.
“Did you really need a wizard, or just to believe in your own dreams?”