I wander through the valley, keeping north towards my destination. Arcadia Mountain towers over the land in the distance. High, snow-capped
peaks piercing the clouds. Green clumps of shrub rustle in the breeze around me, as I continue downhill.
After a while, I come to yet another slope, this time filled with wildflowers and tall grass. The sudden burst of colour is slightly blinding, so I know that I’ve officially entered Arcadia. The view ahead is filled with pine trees, hills, valleys, and a long winding stream that glitters in the spring sun. I eat up the view and strangely it feels as though I’m full. I shake off the feeling instantly. ‘What a strange place,’ I think aloud.
A strong wind erupts around me, furthering my already dishevelled brown hair. The wind stops as abruptly as it came, and the deafening silence allows me to hear the soft gurgle of running water. The sound gets louder as I enter a small meadow surrounded- except for a narrow path beside the stream- by a thin line of evergreen pines. The lush ground slopes down towards the water and once I get closer a dark bed of messy hair finds my sharp eyes. I stop in my tracks. A person.
I sneak over to a large bush that sits to my left and watch. The guy is kneeling and appears to be drinking. My eyes search for a weapon of some kind. He has none. I carefully adjust my position behind the bush. Snap! I curse silently. He jumps up, eyes hunting around—somewhat wildly— for the maker of the noise. Our eyes lock and I gasp, because instantly I realise who he is. He’s the boy who saved me, merely two days before…
We stare at each other’s bewildered faces. Questions fill my mind: Why is he here? What is he here for? He must be thinking the same,
since his face registers both shock and curiosity. I’m even more shocked than him, because I only realise that he’s moved once I hear
a loud snap in front of me. He snaps his fingers again and waves a hand in my face to get my attention. I finally gather myself and
look up into his face. His eyes are a piercing green, but his smile is friendly.
‘You OK?’ He asks, clearly concerned at my behaviour.
‘Yeah, yeah. Sorry.’ I reply, straightening myself up—though he stays considerably taller.
We look at each other for an awkward moment, neither of us knowing quite what to say. He scratches the back of his head and starts.
‘So, what are— ’
‘What are you doing here?’ I interrupt accidentally.
‘Sorry!’ We say in unison.
‘You go!’ We say again. He gestures to me before I can interrupt.
‘Umm, what are you doing here?’ I repeat.
‘Same as you I’m guessing.’
We both look up at the mountain and back to each other again. Another awkward silence. The trees sway as a gust of wind blows through the meadow, tangling my hair into my face. I claw at it, suddenly angry. When I’m able to see again he’s staring at me, dark eyebrows raised in amusement. I glare at him so forcefully, that he raises his hands in mock surrender. A wide grin spreads across his face and I can’t help but laugh at my petty annoyance.
‘So what happens now?’ He asks.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Dunno. It seemed like the right thing to ask,’ He shrugs. ‘We could go together? You probably need protection.’
I think back to when he saved me. The bear had come out of nowhere and I would have been able to save myself if he hadn’t of DROPPED OUT OF THE FLIPPIN’ TREES!
‘I was—and am—fine without you.’ I protest, crossing my arms defensively and scowling.
He laughs. ‘Relax. I was just kidding.’
I sigh, letting my arms fall to my side. ‘Haha, hilarious. But yeah, sure.’
He looks at me. ‘So we are going together?’ He confirms.
‘Why not.’ I shrug.
‘OK, but don’t blame me if you’re “lost forever”,’ He air quotes his last words and I stare at him blankly. ‘You know. From the legend.’ His eyes spark with the same curiosity as before, but I still don’t understand what he’s referring to.
‘I don’t remember anything about my life. Or anything for that matter. All my memories are limited to this place,’I gesture around.
‘And to the interaction between you and I two days ago.’
He stares at me in awe. ‘You’re kidding, right?’ He finally says.
I shake my head. ‘Nope.’
‘Freaky. Do you know your name?’
I think. ‘Actually, I do. It’s Maeve.’
He thrusts out a tanned hand and I notice that he has on a plaited, black leather bracelet. ‘Aleksi.’
He shakes my hand and I do the same in return. I feel a weird tingle as we touch and I think he feels it too because we both pull away, blushing. The sensation fades as I dry my hand on my pants; his hand was still wet from the stream.
‘I need a drink.’ I say.
Aleksi moves to the side and I walk past the bush and down towards the stream. I kneel on the bank and stare into the deep blue water. A teenage girl with short, wonky hair and eyes the colour of the stream stares back, a smile on her face. I glance past my shoulder at Aleksi. He’s surveying the pines. Cupping my hands, I plunge them into the strong, icy current of the wide stream. I must be dehydrated because it takes a long time, but eventually, I quench my sudden thirst. I sit up, exhaling deeply.
‘You ready to go now?’
His voice startles me and I jump.
With an apology he reaches a hand down to help me up. I wave it away getting up myself and oddly, only then do I realise how good-looking he is. I feel a warm blush creep onto my cheeks but force it away, embarrassed. ‘Yep. Let’s go.’
My legs burn painfully after a mostly silent and boring two-and-a-half hours of walking. I stop suddenly, and collapse on the ground face
up. The pines create a delicious shade over me as I puff and pant, and I’m grateful. My breathing slows and I open my eyes to see Aleksi’s
athletic figure standing overhead. There’s a massive grin on his face and I seriously hate him.
‘I guess we could stop for a bit,’ He says it as if we’ve only been walking for fifteen minutes, instead of the much longer—and unfortunate— reality. ‘Not very athletic, huh?’ He flops down beside me, effortlessly handsome despite his sweaty hair and face.
‘Not when its boiling hot.’ I grumble, closing my eyes once again.
‘True. It has become unusually hot for spring, especially this close to a mountain as big as Arcadia.’ He says thoughtfully.
I hear his deep breathing for a while and then it becomes quieter. The chatter of birds drift through the trees like a lullaby, but just before I drift off to sleep I feel a strong hand on my upper arm. Aleksi shakes me gently and my eyes pop open. ‘We should go. This place is…,’ he trails off, unaware of the uneasiness that he’s caused. ‘We’ll walk for another hour and then set up camp.’ His voice is soft and melodious. I sit up so suddenly that I get a head rush.
‘I feel…weird,’ I tell him, not meaning my head. ‘Why?’
‘Arcadia.’ His answer is simple. So much so, that I find myself understanding immediately —and even if I didn’t, all my questions would be answered tonight.
A little over an hour later, we find the perfect camping spot. Complete with: trees for shelter, a stream and soft flat ground for sleeping. I get the fire going while Aleksi hunts for dinner. Turns out he did have a weapon. A sharp silver arrowhead that he exclusively uses to kill food. When he returns, I’m sitting in front of the crackling fire. The orange flames illuminate our camp against the edging darkness, and I watch them, mesmerised by their graceful dance. His catch dangles in my face and I jerk my head backwards just before the bird’s head hits mine. I glower at him trying my hardest to not show that I’m impressed with his efforts. I mustn’t hide it well because he smiles smugly as he skewers the two pheasants on sticks, and props them above the fire to cook.
That night, Aleksi tells me all about the legends of Arcadia. Apparently, if you reach the top of Arcadia Mountain it will grant you your greatest desire; whether you know what it is or not. However, you may only reach the highest peak if you have that of a pure heart and if not… you’ll be lost forever. Not many have returned—which is pretty depressing—so little know if the legend’s real or not, and even fewer are courageous enough to try, especially with death or whatever “lost forever” is, being a common fate.
After a ton of persuasion, Aleksi gives in and tells me what his desire is (or what he thinks it is). His trust in me sparks a surprising amount of pride and I listen solemnly. He desires acceptance from his family. For them to finally accept him for who he is and not constantly wish him to be any different. His confession is hard to believe. Who wouldn’t like him for him? I tell him so. He says that I’m a good friend and I smile, because somehow it feels like a special honour.
I ask him afterwards my face still solemn. ‘Did you only tell me that because you think I won’t make it?’
He stares at me and answers even more solemnly. ‘Yes.’ He holds it for a full two seconds before he bursts out laughing. I punch his shoulder fondly and the night air is filled with talk and laughter, before we eventually settle down for some much needed rest. The full moon shines bright moonbeams down on our camp as if she’s watching over us. I snuggle into my jacket, though the air is warm, and the fresh smell of grass becomes familiar to my nose as I sleep peacefully through the night.
The next day dawns fresh and welcoming. We head off straightaway wanting to get an early start on the journey that looms ahead. We chat the
entire time and it comes so easily that it seems as though we’ve been friends our whole lives. After a brief break at the stream we continue
on, our hearts full of hope and courage as we get closer all the time.
My breath catches as I gawk at the mountain’s rough armour. Wherever the top peak is I can’t see it because colossal clouds surround it protectively. She knew we were coming. A shiver runs down my spine as I take in the determination that jolts off her in powerful waves.
'“She belittles all who come without courage. Foreboding and tall she will not stand as coverage. Dexterous are thee? If not, you should flee. For those full of purity, do not make haste for it is not a race. If you climb higher your desire will transpire, but do not come back or you will plummet down flat.”’
I turn to Aleksi, mouth agape. ‘There’s a song?’
‘Obviously,’ He smirks, but then his face turns serious. ‘We shouldn’t of become friends.’
I nod my head, understanding. ‘I promise not to save you.’
‘You think I’m not pure of heart?’ He teases before repeating to me. We seal with a handshake, but I know that neither of us can possibly keep our promise. We’ve bonded and it would put us in danger.
‘Good luck.’ I say and start climbing.