Ariya And The Hidden Realm
By Brinda Murthy
Life in Ozryn had always been slow and uneventful. A small town thriving in the lush countryside, it was home to a small populace that lived off farming, rearing livestock, and occasional trade through the lonely port a few hundred meters from it. The people of Ozryn were staisfied with the simple life they had been blessed with, but the same could not be said about Ariya.
Like any other sprightly young girl of her age, Ariya dreamed of a life of adventure and thrill, traveling through mountains and meadows and deserts to find unexplored lands. It was only the mountains and meadows around Ozryn that she could explore though, taking a different path each time in hopes of finding something unique and exciting.
“You're daydreaming again, Ariya,” spoke a boy with messy brown tousles. He was regarding her with a displeased frown, though not one that bothered her in the slightest.
“Lighten up, brother,” the young girl said with a laugh. “What could possible happen in this boring town while I daydream?”
“The sheep could run away,” he responded, sighing exasperatedly at his sister who seemed nonchalant about what he had said.
“You worry too much,” teased Ariya. She settled to hum and follow after the sheep though, rounding in the few that had strayed away from the flock.
It was early evening when she and Fredrick returned to their house. The sheep were gated in before the duo entered their house while greeting the rest of the family. Supper was being prepared and the delicious aroma of stew filled the house. Ariya set up the table after washing up and the family of five enjoyed the pleasant evening, sharing anything interesting that had happened to them over the course of the day as they ate.
The youngest of the family was asleep the earliest, leaving the two older siblings to help their mother with after-dinner cleaning. With groceries lacking for the next day, Ariya’s mother sent her to the closing market to buy what they needed. Ariya was more than happy to take a stroll through the paved street between cobble stone row houses. Only a few residents were walking about but the street was well lit and was safe as could be for anyone who lived here.
“Off for some late shopping, are you?” asked a slightly balding man that Ariya passed by.
“Yes, Mr. Luther. Mum needed some things from Mr. Hugo’s,” she answered cheerily.
“Then you better hurry. He was getting ready to close up.”
With a wave, Ariya broke into a sprint to Mr. Hugo’s. Having bought what she needed, she walked home at a leisurely pace. The streets were deserted now, but most of the lights of the buildings were on, indicating that everyone was still awake. There was something eerie about the air - a feeling that Ariya began to find uncomfortable soon enough. Her eyes darted about in search of the invisible presence she could feel sending chills down her spine. She picked up her pace of walking, wishing to reach the safety of her home quickly.
The odd feeling disappeared once she was in her home, and it had her wondering if she had only been unnecessarily paranoid. Putting away the groceries, she then went to sleep without any second thought of what had happened earlier.
She woke early the next morning to go out on her usual morning stroll up the mountain beside the town. She walked further away than she had ever gone before she began her ascend. It was soon that she reached a cliff from where she could see her entire town. It was a spectacular sight to take in. Ariya stood at the edge and spread her arms wide to welcome the sight and the breeze that filled her with a sense of euphoria.
With still some time before the daily routine commences, Ariya laid down on her back to watch the cumulus clouds that adorned the pale blue sky. She closed her eyes after a few minutes, feeling them tug away in sleepiness.
When she opened her eyes, however, she tensed at the sight of a man standing right beside her. She sat up swiftly in startle and shuffled back before standing, then gazed at the man who had a rather queer appearance. He was tall and lean with straight hair in the color of cherry blossoms and matching eyes. He wore long white robes and delicate jewelry atop his head. There was a gentle smile playing on his lips while an aura of tranquility surrounded him. He appeared regal, ethereal even.
“Ariya, I have been waiting for you,” the man spoke, his voice velvety.
“Who are you? And how do you know my name?” Ariya asked cautiously. She glanced around to check if there were others with the man who could hinder any of her attempts of an escape.
“I am Rafaelle, a wizard of Elliorath,” he answered. “Elliorath is a peaceful world but is now being threatened by dark forces that wish to destroy us. The prophecy of the Great One lead us to you, and I am here to ask you to help us, to save us.”
Ariya’s heart skipped a beat. While she was suspicious and apprehensive of the stranger, his words seemed genuine. His tone had been laced with desperation, rousing hesitance in Ariya to refuse his request. She also wondered how she had been chosen by the one this man had addressed as the Great One.
“We are men, women and beasts who can use magic and believe in destiny,” Rafaelle said. It seemed that he had figured out Ariya’s unasked questions. “You possess an incredible spiritual aura and that is proof enough that you are the chosen one. You are our Great Warrior.”
With a yearning for adventure, Ariya felt a tingle down her spine. She could not refuse now, though it was more because there was an unusual force within her that compelled her to help Elliorath. She was filled with determination and the desire to protect the Elliorathians with the power she was said to have. She agreed to help.
She followed Rafaelle deep into the forest, until they reached a cave hidden behind a wall of tall trees. They stepped into the cave, staying close to the wall as the light from the outside no longer reached them.
With every step Ariya took, she began to feel like she was going deeper into another world. It was soon that they were greeted by glowing crystals embedded in the walls. The floor of the cave was visible now, and made Ariya less nervous than she was before. They continued through the winding tunnels until it opened to a world that was far beyond Ariya’s wildest imagination.
There were plants and towering trees in an array of colors, some even glowing. They were more than merely alive, noticing any movement around them and responding to them with dances of their own. A few even seemed to vocalize, singing sweetly to the curious birds that fluttered around them.
Ariya spotted animals too. Most were nothing out of the ordinary in overall appearance, resembling the deer, rabbits and foxes she sometimes spotted on the mountain side, but had fascinating features that gave them their uniqueness. The sight of carnivorous animals startled her but she relaxed upon noticing that they did not show hostility nor did Rafaelle seem the slightest fazed.
“I will take you to the Great One, Great Warrior,” he said, motioning with his hand for Ariya to continue after him.
“Great Warrior,” the animals greeted as she passed them, even bowing with their eyes closed in respect.
They soon reached an enormous tree that seemed to touch the sky. It was taller and bigger than any tree Ariya had seen in her life. What was even more amazing was the lush habitat that thrived at the base of it, in the portion that had been carved out. Amid the colorful flora stood a man, tall and graceful, with a small smile upon his slightly aged face. He wore white robes and delicate jewelry like Rafaelle, but his hair was dark and his eyes were pools of deep amber.
“Great One,” Rafaelle greeted him while getting down on one knee. Ariya did the same, though awkwardly, averting her eyes from staring at the man when he turned to face them.
“Rise, my children,” he said, his baritone soothing. “I apologize, Ariya, for burdening you with the troubles of our world, but I am also immensely grateful for your help.”
Ariya felt a tug in her heart. The anguish in the Great One’s voice showed how worried he was for the safety of his people. She had to help them.
“I will do what I can to help you, Great One, but I'm not sure if I am as capable as you believe me to be.”
“You are more than capable, Ariya,” said the Great One.
His words elicited a small smile in Ariya. She allowed the Great One to escort her past the grand tree with a gentle but firm hold of her hand until they reached an altar in the middle of a beautiful meadow. Next to the altar was a magnificent black panther with jewel like eyes. It bowed in greeting to the two who approached and, much to Ariya’s surprise, glowed before transforming into a beautiful woman with sun-kissed skin.
“Great One, Lady Ariya,” she greeted with a charming smile.
“Adele,” the Great one said fondly, “I leave our young warrior in you care.”
The Great One left after another word of gratitude. Adele approached Ariya and caressed her cheek in a motherly gesture. “We are immensely grateful for your assistance, child. I am Adele, guardian of the sacred staff that I will now bestow upon you to aid you in mastering magic and fighting the darkness that is nearly upon us.”
The ceremony was silent and brief, but intense. Upon receiving the sacred staff, Ariya had felt a surge of power within her that seemed to resonate with her surroundings. It appeared to reach her very soul, making her heart pound in her ears in momentary overwhelm. The power that was unlocked was immense, so much that it had Ariya collapsing and gasping like a fish out of water. Her skin burned as if it had been doused in the hottest of flames and prickled like it was being stabbed by a thousand needles. Her lungs begged for air and her eyes watered from the pain and fear that enveloped her.
She felt like a different person when the power within her had settled. She felt stronger and far more alert of her surroundings. The softest of sounds were clear to her, the slightest change in wind was apparent, and she could feel the sparks of life in all the things that were around her.
“Rest for today, my dear, and we will begin your training from tomorrow,” Adele said kindly.
She escorted Ariya to a cozy house carved into the trunk of a tree, and left her to rest after adorning her wrist with a bracelet made from ivory pearls. It was a charm for good luck and victory, Adele had said.
Ariya did not waste time in falling onto the soft mattress made from feathers after that and closing her eyes to sleep. She was well rested over the night and was ready to become the warrior she needed to be for Elliorath going forth.
Training was intense right from the beginning. The men, women and beasts who would fight alongside Ariya trained with her, first in increasing stamina and endurance. Running was the most basic drill, with and without weights and no matter what the weather, along with hand-to-hand combat spars. It was followed by training in magic using the sacred staff. Ariya learnt and mastered a variety of spells, right from healing and raising barriers to subjugation and destruction.
It was apparent that spells of destruction were forbidden and were not ones that the people of Elliorath were comfortable witnessing. They were peaceful and loving, after all, and showed only care and concern to each other. But their situation had called for dire measures, and they only revered Ariya for shouldering the responsibility of learning dangerous and dark spells that would save their lives.
Days rolled by and all could see the looming darkness that got closer and closer to them. It had stirred unrest in many, but they believed that Ariya would be able to save them. It was a great responsibility indeed, rendering Ariya feeling tense under the pressure.
She exhaled deeply. Her eyes were fixated on the looming darkness in the distance while she sat on the branch of one of the many trees of the forest.
“Here you are,” came a familiar voice that had Ariya tearing her gaze away from the darkness.
“Kian,” she said, giving her comrade a smile. He was one of the many she had been training alongside and the very first mentor she had had. He was a beastman, a powerful lion in his beast form as against the lean man with brown tousles and golden eyes in his human form.
“It is late, yet you are not resting. Is something the matter?” he asked her. He sat own unceremoniously next to her on the branch, his legs crossed.
“No, I just couldn’t sleep,” Ariya answered.
Kian noticed that her smile did not reach her eyes. Concerned for her wellbeing, he said, “You look troubled though. Is it something I can help with, my lady?”
Inhaling deeply, Ariya returned her gaze to the distance. It was a moment before she said, “Forgive me, Sir Kian. I am just a little nervous. I am training and I believe in the strength I have accumulated over the days. However, I’m worried that I will not be strong enough. I'm worried that I will not be able to defeat the dark forces. I don’t want to let all of you down.”
“You're worrying too much,” said Kian with an amused smile. “You were chosen for this out of all the other people of the world, and it was not by chance, Lady Ariya. Besides, you will not be alone. You will have all of us of your army fighting by your side. We trust you and know that we can overcome the darkness together.”
Kian was confident in her and all his comrades that had gathered to protect their home and the people they loved. Ariya wanted to protect the smiles and laughter of all the people she had come to know, and she knew that she had to believe in herself in order to do that.
Kian’s reassurance had eased her unrest and filled her with confidence and determination. She straightened and nodded with him with a smile. “You're right, Kian. I trust in my strength and my comrades. Thank you for reminding me of that. We’re going to be victorious.”
Ariya trained even harder for the remaining days, honing her skills to perfection alongside all of her comrades.
On the day of the war, Ariya was dressed in sacred robes and jewels, all as a symbol of her identity and as contraptions to amplify her magic and protect her as well. She looked regal, her eyes ablaze with determination as she gazed at the approaching dark veil. She was calm and confident and an air of power hung around her. Her spiritual aura was flaring enough to ruffle her hair and clothes as it swivelled around her in a wind tunnel.
It was soon that the dark forces were upon them, flying in as a swarm of black beasts that cast upon the succulent lands an array of dark magic. Ariya’s power pulsed, rousing a burst of strength in all who were around her. Raising her staff, Ariya let out a war cry to signal the start of the retaliation.
She lunged forward with the others close behind. The crystal ball at the top of her staff emitted a brilliant light as her own spiritual aura flared even more around her. A powerful spell of subjugation defeated the first line of the enemy, purifying the darkness in them to drops of crystal-clear water. The ground on which the drops fell was instantly abundant with lush green life. The sight surprised Ariya, but her concentration did not linger on it for more than a split second.
The brutal fight continued, more and more dark beasts coming our way. Several were purified by the archers who fired arrows from the sidelines while others were cut down by the warriors on land. Ariya cut down beast after beast, rendering them to disintegrate into nothingness. Despite exhaustion and no rest to recuperate, Ariya and her army fought bravely and with all the strength they could muster. It was not without losses though.
“Kian!” Ariya hollered in anguish when an arrow pieced his chest. He fell to the ground gasping and with blood seeping into his clothes.
Having dealt with several beasts blocking her way, Ariya then hurried to Kian’s side. She looked over him with prickling eyes, tears threating to fall from them. Keeping her hand on his shoulder was the only thing she could offer as comfort for the dying man.
“Lady Ariya,” he wheezed, “I'm sorry I failed you.”
“You have not failed anymore, Sir Kian,” said Ariya, a small smile coming through her tears. This was war and losses were inevitable. However, knowing that did not make it any easier to accept. “You fought bravely and kept your honor.”
“Thank you, my lady. Then, I leave my strength in your hands.” As he closed his eyes in eternal rest, Ariya touched his forehead with hers. She felt his strength fill her, his spiritual aura entwined with hers.
“I will not let your sacrifice go to waste,” Ariya whispered, allowing a lone tear to fall. She then stood and narrowed her eyes at the darkness that was still far from defeated.
The battle went on for three days straight. Pushing past all the dark beasts, Ariya and the remainder of her army came face to face with their final opponent – the source of the darkness that had threatened to suffocate the realm.
Ariya and the Dark Lord were equally matched, and there was no space for any of the others to intervene unless they wished to be destroyed. As the battle progressed, Ariya closed the gap between the two of them so she could use hand-to-hand combat along with magic. The Dark Lord was powerful and skilled, and did well to dodge and counter every one of her attacks.
Hours felt like days as all watched the clash of light and dark. Many prayed for strength to Ariya, and others prayed for the darkness to lose strength. Their prayers were heard and granted, and Ariya felt a burst of immense power suddenly. Glancing for the briefest moment behind her, she saw all her comrades watching her in determination with their palms facing her. Their lips moved as they chanted powerful spells. Their spiritual aura was gathering in the crystal ball of her staff, readying her for a final spell that would overpower the darkness once and for all.
Thank you, everyone, for giving me your strength, Ariya said, silently, in her mind.
She could feel the power of all her friends in her – it was overwhelming yet heartwarming, like a soft blanket keeping her protected from the biting cold. With a deep inhale, she steadied her stance and spiritual strength to a state of tranquility. It was like a sheet of water, absolutely still.
“Luminescence,” she said, her breath condensing as she spoke.
With a pulse, the power in the crystal ball of the staff burst out as blinding light in all directions. All except Ariya closed their eyes and shielded their faces, and the dark lord shrieked as he was enveloped by the purifying magic. When the spell’s effect diminished, all opened their eyes in tense silence. The Dark lord had been defeated and a giant drop of water remained in his place.
Ariya approached the drop and touched it with her finger. It popped and fell to the ground, nurturing a variety of flora with a crystal flower in the center.
“We won,” mumbled one of the warriors behind Ariya. Smiling wide, he then yelled to announce to the world, “We won! The darkness has been defeated!”
The remaining warrior cheered loudly and embraced each other in sheer joy. There were many who cried too, mourning the loss of their fallen comrades. Ariya joined them, collapsing on her knees and crying from both joy and sadness.
All returned to the heart of the forest where the humans and beastmen tribes lived. They were welcomed as heroes and saviors of the world. The injured were sent to be healed while the fallen were given the honor they deserved for their sacrifice.
“Thank you, Great Warrior, for defeating the darkness and saving Elliorath,” the Great One said, approaching Ariya while she sat with her comrades and enjoyed the victory feast that had been prepared.
She stood and bowed low to the Great One. “I am honored that I could help.”
“How are your injuries?” he asked in concern. While it was nothing major, Ariya had suffered several bruises and superficial scratches on her limbs.
“They are only minor, Great One, and already healing,” she reassured him with a smile.
“That is a relief. Please enjoy the feast,” he said warmly before he left to speak with others.
The lands were filled with cheer now. All rejoiced for their victory, and food and drinks were shared amongst friends and family and many danced around a bright bonfire. The celebration went on into the night, all until Ariya could not keep her eyes open any longer. She fell asleep on the table at which she sat despite the loudness around her.
“Ariya,” a familiar voice stirred her from her sleep far too soon than she had wanted to wake up. “Ariya, wake up.”
The hand she felt on her shoulder shaking her gently had her open her eyes to see the blue sky above. She sat up, rubbing her dry eyes, and gazed at her brother who was kneeling next to her.
“Fredrick?” she mumbled in mild confusion. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, you were gone too long, so Mum asked me to look for you. I was surprised to find you sleeping here,” he answered. “Anyway, let’s go now. We have to take the sheep grazing.”
“Oh, right.” Ariya was in a slight daze, her thoughts jumbled.
As they descended the mountain, she could only think of the strange dream she had had. It was curious that she remembered everything to the smallest detail. She felt oddly nostalgic about it because of that. She shook her head though, returning to reality from her fantasy world.
Post a filling breakfast, she and Fredrick took their sheep to the grazing lands like they did every day. Ariya sat atop a boulder to watch over the sheep while her brother went off to run a few errands for their mother.
Ariya returned home by noon, guiding the sheep back to their enclosure. Locking them in, she stepped to the front door of her house. There was no one home so she reached into her pocket for the spare key she usually carried whenever she went out on her morning strolls. She tensed, her eyes going wide when she felt something inside her pocket besides the house key.
She revealed an ivory pearl bracelet from her pocket – the same one that Adele had put on her wrist on the day she had entered the magical world as their Great Warrior.
“It wasn’t a dream,” she mumbled to herself. All the memories of the time she had been there gushed through her, eliciting many emotions in her.
“What wasn’t a dream?”
The voice had Ariya looking at her mother who was just returning from Mr. Hugo’s store with a basket of groceries.
“That’s a lovely bracelet, Ariya. Where did you get it?” her mother asked with a cheery smile.
It was a moment before Ariya smiled, gazing back at the bracelet in her hand. She wore it around her wrist and said fondly, “It is a gift from a friend.”
“Just someone,” answered Ariya. She was glad that her mother did not press for details. “Anyway, let’s head inside and get lunch ready. I'm famished!”
The memories of her friends and comrades of the magical world along with the adventure she had had with them would remain in her heart forever. She was proud to have been able to help them, and she would continue to help whoever she could to whatever extent she could going forward.
By Brinda Murthy