Dark things – that show not their faces, save their eyes – were roaming in the wood. The undergrowth was rustling, hissing beneath the feet, vibrating and humming; speaking a guttural language we did not even bother trying to understand. We must have been going for up to two thousand kilometers in all. This was the sixth forest and the last one before Cythe’s frontage.
Ington illuminated the map in my right hand as I squinted at it. Then we turned towards the West but even the sun seemed to have fled and utter darkness was racing towards us across the massive land of Cythera. My bones were weak and my mind, exhausted. My muscles felt like rubber. We instinctively knew well enough not to walk too close to the trees because we were sure there were unknown things lurking beneath the hirsute boughs and vines of the forest. We could see their many cruel eyes leering at us from the blackness, following our every motion. They might have waited for us for a month, or a year, or two. Or ten years or maybe even a thousand; as seasons must have turned into dust before their eyes, their throats longing for a soul to enter the realms of their shadows. We were not eager to be acquainted with the mysteries.
And then Elinia glanced back and gasped. I followed her gaze and saw that the trees had been closing behind us, their branches creating a cold shadowy veil. “We’ll have to move faster”, I urged my companions as we marched on. I clutched the mistletoe to my chest for luck and Ington scanned the horizon for any signs of mindforces and their sweeping lights.
We were inside the imagination of Cythe of Harridan, the wicked lonely witch who lived by herself on highland in a castle whose walls are made of solidified tears, towering near the place from which lightning comes. She had long dirty-green oily hair, pale white skin, red eyes and a big pimple on the tip of her nose. She was wickedly skilled in presage, sortilege, enchantment and allurement but she did not know we were there, and we wanted to keep things that way until we had achieved our mission and hopefully, escaped safely. This meant we had to avoid encounters with the peoples, actions and scenes of the half-cooked schemes that she was plotting at any point in time, even absent-mindedly, or else any of them might rope us in when they get summoned to the frontage by her mindforces.
We also had to avoid the peoples, methods and scenes that her mindforces were actively using at the moment. Here in Cythera, the only ones we could interact with were the lost ones; the peoples, processes and places that Cythe is destined to eventually imagine, but she has never even thought about for a second. We all have imaginations planted into our minds before the beginning of time – and unfortunately some of them will stay there forever as lost ones. This is because the lost ones flee (whether they be location or activity or creature) from the light of our mindforces, as they will rather stay lost. It is their own will to be discovered only when one seeks thoroughly. This forest that we were trudging in Cythera was one of the lost ones, we deliberately dodged through it because Cythe had never paid attention to it.
Until the previous day, Santa Claus used to be one of the lost ones in Cythera, grayed out and avoiding the sweeping lights of the mindforces when they sought something new for Cythe to imagine. It had been destined that Cythe may be the only witch tolerated to cast an irreversible spell on Santa and turn him into a pile of salt rapidly dissolving at the bottom of the ocean, ferried away by the strong undercurrents. But this was conditional – only if she reckoned with the pre-imagination, and only if she was willing and could afford enough power from her eternal allocation of magic. Alas, Cythe reckoned her pre-imagination on the matter and she thought it was worth spending enough magic on. Thus began her enchantment on Santa Claus, and thus launched my own life into the bunglesome adventure.
I was 9 years old at the time, and I was enjoying a lazy Christmas Eve. Then I got bored so I left my parents and went upstairs to my room to play on my computer. On my way I playfully grabbed the sprig of mistletoe that Uncle Harold had given me when he came visiting in the morning. He said a beautiful couple had left it hanging in his taxi the previous day. I was amazed to see a new door between mine and my baby sister’s room. The room had never been there before so I was definitely curious.
I opened the door and the room was empty except for a gold bracelet in the center of the room. I slowly picked it up and noticed with fascination that there was a name written on the bracelet. However the name could not be read, because each of the seven letters was changing, and they did not all change at the same speed or at the same time. I thought it was really cool so I wore it on my left wrist. Suddenly the letters stopped spinning and it read CYTHERA. There was a loud thunderclap and everything went dark at that moment, but the gold bracelet illuminated the room with its brilliant glow. Then I heard two voices.
“Is he the one?” asked the first, a soft feminine voice.
“Don’t ask me! You can see what happened!” retorted the other, a deep slow voice that filled the room.
“Then why is he so small? Don’t we need someone bigger for this difficult task?”
“Are you saying I’m also too small for this task? Huh?” asked the other one.
I turned around and couldn’t see anyone. They didn’t sound scary so I was not afraid.
“Don’t be like that, Ington. But don’t you think it’s rude to keep talking and not to show ourselves to him?”
“It’s whatever, Elinia. You go first.”
“Eric! Are you okay?” yelled Mum from downstairs, and I yelled back that I was fine, thanks. Then the power supply came back on and all was illuminated again.
“Oh, so your name is Eric. I’m Elinia. I’m a shapeshifter”, she said as she gradually appeared, from her dainty feet up to her fair head. She was my height, dressed in a beautiful red dress and had narrow light green eyes and wispy auburn hair. As a shapeshifter, this might well not have been her natural form. She was holding a slender, beautiful golden sword.
“And I am Ington. I am an elemental spirit”, said the other as it popped into view, hovering beside Elinia’s face. It was a simple blue dot about the size of a pinhead, but the light blue glow around it made it appear as large as the pupil of an eyeball.
“I’m Eric. I am a boy. I’m pleased to meet you both, and I wish you a Merry Christmas!” I said, leaning in to kiss Elinia on the cheek while holding the mistletoe above our heads. She giggled and covered her mouth.
“Unfortunately there might no longer be Christmas, let alone a merry one. An evil hag is about to rock the world to its foundations”, uttered Ington in his grave tone.
“But there might yet be hope since the bracelet submitted to you, Eric”, continued Elinia.
Then they told me how they were Santa Claus’ friends, and about Cythe’s plans, and how we could get help from a powerful good-hearted magician called Ongookoowakhe. They said Ongookoowakhe was destined to be Cythe’s arch-nemesis but he was not yet born. And in all of the worlds, his presence was strongest inside Cythe’s imagination because she was eagerly anticipating his birth.
The Legends said Ongookoowakhe dwelled in the deserted ruins of the ancient city of Thaumaturges – after the sixth forests of Cythera – waxing in formidable knowledge and waiting to be born in reality. Cythe had sent mindforces to him to summon him many times but he always stood there defiantly practicing his spells and not paying them any attention. And the mindforces were always too afraid to approach, let alone arrest him. Fruitless, they would always return to the frontage.
Thus we had to go to Cythera, and Ington was to help to ferry us there. A wise Sybil had told them a human being needed to be on the quest, and that was why they came with the enchanted bracelet to select someone for the task. Me. Why not someone else?
Of course I resisted the idea, it was too risky and everyone knows I am a coward. Then Ington zigzagged in the air to create a force field mirror and it allowed me to peep into the next day. What I saw was sad. Nobody seemed to remember how jolly Christmas should be. All the merry lights and lovely Christmas trees were nowhere to be found. I saw many houses and there were no gifts for the good boys and girls. On the streets people were walking around sad and sullen faced, shivering and shuffling in the winter. Then they stopped moving and turned to stare at me. Suddenly a woman pointed at me and told her crying child “It’s his fault”. “No! I didn’t do it!!” I yelled, but more people began to assemble and they looked straight at me, pointing fingers at me, murmuring and whispering to one another. I burst into tears and told my new friends that I would go with them to save Santa. For every one of us.
Elinia jumped for joy and handed me the sword while I held on to the mistletoe in my other hand. We could only spend less than a day in Cythera. There was a special quality of air which meant if it was breathed for more than a day it would be impossible to breathe any other type of air and we could never leave.
In a split second Ington catapulted us into Cythera. You see, Ington is an elemental of extents. Magnitudes, levels, degrees, quantities of anything are within its control with ease. For Ington, it’s all about influencing how far, how near, how soon, how well, how much, how many and so on; leaving a brilliant blue streak of light to gradually dissolve in the air after his magic.
Our arrival at Cythera was silent as we nimbly made our way through the rear-portal. Our first experience was an army of wights. Wights are generally half an inch to one and half inches tall and tend to be thin; and they are very sensitive about their size. They have coarse, fleecy hair that varies from brown to black, eyes that are brown, grey, or blue, and light to medium brown skin. They typically have angular faces, with aquiline noses and eyes that are almond-shaped and wide-set. They surrounded us with spears and poked and prodded us in the direction of their settlement. We were in their captivity. Elinia explained that we could not fight them or enchant them because it was forbidden. They were under the protection of the Eternal One who rules over everything.
Their ruler rose up to his full one-inch height and asked me “From where did you see my men?” I was about to reply when Elinia pinched me and whispered quickly in my ear. I replied in a clear voice “We saw them thundering powerfully from the top of the tallest tree in the farthest distance that any eye can discover”. The wight ruler smiled happily and said “Your answer to our riddle has pleased us indeed. Here, have this sylph egg, and take good care of it till it hatches.” And two wight guards heaved gently and dropped it in my palm. It was no bigger than Ington in size, and it was as invisible as air – for a sylph is an air elemental. The only way I knew it was there was that I could feel it. I placed it in the center of the mistletoe for safekeeping. The wights invited us to stay for dinner, and we did, before we continued our quest.
I wondered why Ington could not shorten the distance between us and the Ongookoowakhe’s hideout. I’m not sure I understood but all it mumbled was about the journey being the necessary experience. We encountered five forests and over a hundred skirmishes with packs of orcs, goblins, trolls and many other smelly, hairy creatures. I dropped the sylph egg once while in combat and was frantically searching for the invisible egg in the grass while the troll gave me blows on my back, and it hurt very much but I was more scared of the egg getting crushed underfoot. Thankfully I found it and was able to continue fighting.
In combat, Elinia would turn into a spinning sharp blade on wheels and run at the enemy. Ington on the other hand would gradually increase the enemies’ desire to be elsewhere and they’d leave us alone. That did not work when we encountered a vicious golem just before Thaumaturges, for golems would have no feelings to be manipulated, nor fear of Elinia’s blade nor my golden sword. They also cannot be killed, because they are not alive, for they are living-dead. After fighting it for many tired minutes, I and Elinia had given up hope. Then Ington increased the weight of all the golem’s muscles and he couldn’t raise his arms or legs or chase us. It began to scream, and we were afraid that mindforces would be attracted to the place, so Ington reduced his voice till he was mute. And there the golem stood with its mouth wide open, just like a statue.
We finally arrived at Ongookoowakhe’s place and then he acted like we were not there. We explained our mission and told him we were in a hurry before the mindforces could arrive but he did not even look at us, he continued muttering his spells.
I felt like crying. We had wasted our time and energy, and endured hardships, and fought, all to no avail. We had little time left till Christmas and Santa Claus was surely not going to survive.
After a long period of our despair, he bent over and wrote two things in the sand in runes. Elinia stooped and read out loud,
“My time is not yet. Your own experience is your journey.”
We both looked at Ington for an explanation. It growled, “I think the wise magician is saying he cannot help us since he has not yet been born. And that we have all it takes to finish this quest by ourselves. How we’ll do that, is something we must have learnt on the way here”.
Hearing this, Ongookoowakhe smiled at us. Then he retreated slowly into his resting place. In a few seconds we could hear him snoring in sleep.
As if on cue, the mindforces appeared on the horizon, brandishing brilliant lights and moving like lightning. I had expected this, because we were no longer in lost places, and we had been talking to the magician, an active creature in Cythera. We were captured and dragged to the frontage. Then the mindforces retreated to a distance, standing guard over us.
At the frontage, the sunlight was blinding as it cascaded onto the ground, flooding the courtyard with light. A figure could be seen in the distance, wearing the most beautiful gown, holding a sceptre in her hand and walking towards us. When she was up-close, I realized it was a pretty, young and powerful form of Cythe. This was how she saw herself in her own imagination. She clapped and Santa Claus appeared, bound in chains. Then she cackled harshly.
“Please let him go”, I begged her. “Santa has never done anything wrong to anybody!”
“Yes, I’ll let him go! To waste! At the bottom of the Ocean as a pile of salt!! Watch me!!!” she screamed
At that moment my mistletoe rumbled and I saw that the sylph egg was rolling. Elinia gasped and Ington blinked at the same time. Simultaneously, Cythe raised her hands and mustered her magic, then something truly awesome happened. Streaks of magical essence left Cythe’s hands and rushed in the egg’s direction, and the witch was unable to control it. Ington helped her increase the flow and she shrieked helplessly till she was kneeling. All her mindforces had vanished. Finally the egg cracked open and a beautiful sylph emerged. She grew in size as Cythe collapsed out of exhaustion. Yet more magical essence continued to leave her. Then the witch began to plead for mercy, that she was about to die.
The newborn sylph replied, “I will spare you if you will reverse the enchantments on Santa Claus and allow these ones free passage back home”
“Yes and yes! Please!! I don’t want to die!!” Cythe yelled. The sylph nodded and the flow stopped. The chains fell off Santa and he ran to hug me and Elinia, gushing with thanks. Cythe just lay on the flow, unconscious.
“That was awesome! What just happened?” I asked the sylph after catching my breath.
“When a sylph egg is hatching, it requires a tremendous amount of magic so it absorbs from whatever source it finds nearby. This would have been the sylph’s mother, but things went so well in this case, Cythe was the largest magical energy source nearby. But proud as she is, she has nothing compared to a sylph. That’s why she almost died. And thanks to you, Eric, for the warm mistletoe, and for keeping me safe.”
I smiled in joy. Now everything on the quest made sense.
Ingdon asked Santa “Don’t you have gifts to deliver?”
“I do, old pal, across all of the worlds in one night. I’m sure you’ll help me shorten my distances as usual. Ho ho ho”, Santa chuckled.
“I’m coming along!” yelled Elinia and she changed into a reindeer. We all laughed.
We said our goodbyes and the three of them vanished.
“Will you come back home with me?” I asked the Sylph
“Only those who come in can get out, my friend. Do you want a small book of magic spells?”
I said yes, and asked her, “Please make the book appear in the hands of someone pure and true, as a Christmas gift from me and you”. She laughed and waved her hands, “It’s done!”
Then she kissed me and waved goodbye, and I found myself at home, admiring my gold bracelet and lying in my bed on a beautiful Christmas eve. This was how I valiantly saved Santa Claus many years ago, when I was only 9 years old.