Chapter 1 – New beginning

Chapter 1

That day I decided my life is going to change. It will start with me getting the highest mark in herb classes, which we were going to have outdoors. It wasn’t in fact as easy as it sounded – I had to find certain ingredients and prepare a cream out of them later in the lab. I didn’t even have a plan, merely a conviction that my life has to change today. I followed the group staying slightly aside from the group. I didn’t fit and I knew that, so I stopped even trying. Instead I was scanning the surroundings in search of necessary ingredients, picking herbs every now and then. Our walk ended up in an area slightly less covered with tress, where the sunlight was finally able to reach the ground. Above the tree tops some of the highest towers of the monastery were visible. There was more to the city than just our headquarters, but it was the most prominent part of it. Center of law and power. Below the tree tops the forest was deep and dark, but I wasn’t afraid of it. In fact there was something alluring in its wild nature.

As I’ve been contemplating that, something small and furry moved in front of my eyes. Under closer inspection I noticed it was a squirrel. I smiled to this unexpected display of the nature, the animal stopped to observe me too. My eyes quickly moved towards the red colour the animal was holding in its jaw… It was the amaranth flower! Last ingredient I needed to accomplish my goal set for today!

I briefly looked back, but the rest of the group was further away, busy with their own searches. Masters were sitting on the only stone present. Before I knew, I was reaching out to the squirrel, which was moving away alarmed to the sudden change. Literally everything depended on this little squirrel… I scooped towards it slower at possible, holding my breath with every slightest move… And the squirrel was gone! Without thinking, I followed in the chase. I was moving further and further away from the group, but it was too important, the stakes were too high to let it go. In fact I let go way too many times before. Today was supposed to be the day that everything changes. And I knew it will just as I noticed a squirrel carrying the flower in its teeth! A chance like that might not happen again.

After about 10 minutes of chase, the squirrel climbed up a tree, but that was its final mistake! While climbing, the flower dropped to the ground and I picked it triumphantly. I won with a squirrel, it was as ridiculous as it sounded. When I turned around to go back I suddenly realised that I have no idea which way to go. The forest was identical in every direction. “Well done, this time you surely outdone yourself” – I thought. I imagined the angry monastery Masters and what punishment they’ll choose for me being late. I spend most of my life in the monastery. When I was a child, it was my dream to get accepted. With my childish idealism and childish faith I wanted to change the world into a better place. I remembered how proud my parents were, when I passed the exam on a third attempt. I became a part of the most prestigious force in our country, but I ended up being just another brick in the wall – pressured to do what was expected of me. I prayed to our God for a sign. I prayed for a right path for myself. I prayed not to go crazy.

And here I was – trying to turn the wheel of fortune for myself, straying around the forest. I picked the direction at random and walked forward. For a longer while I was hoping I will miraculously get back on time unnoticed. But when the sun started to set in, I started being really worried if I can find my path back at all. I must have spent at least an hour, maybe more, wandering. The classes must have finished by now and everyone went to the city. What if they didn’t notice my absence? My stomach curled and for the first time I realised there might be something more at stake than a punishment. I tried not to think about it, but it was hard not to when the coldness of the evening surrounded me. I braced myself, bur the white linen robe didn’t give much protection.

“Stupid flower!” – I threw the plant away in anger and leaned over a nearest tree. My body slid down out of cold and powerlessness. A few drops of tears run down my cheeks and on my robe. I tasted the savory taste of my recklessness. I wiped the tears with the back of my hand and tried to calm myself down. Rational thinking was definitely something I failed in over and over.

I couldn’t make sense of the directions, because we weren’t allowed to go outside the walls of our city unsupervised. But in the very least I could at least enjoy being here, before I die. Part of me was scared of being in a place I shouldn’t be. But another part… was happy to be away from the ever-present guards and masters. I’ve never felt so alone and yet I never felt so…free.

In the almost complete silence I’ve heard a soft murmur. “River!” I stood up, filled with new hope, picked up the flower and rushed in the direction of the sound, trying not to trip over the bushes in the dusk. The river was flowing through our city, once I reach it, I should be able to get back home…

Once I reached it I followed downstream. As I walked, the noise of the water was increasing, I figured there must be small waterfall nearby. There was something magical about the view. The sound of water and crickets filled me with incredible calmness. There and then I felt a deep connection has been established between me and the world.

Still from the distance I noticed something dark floating on the river among tree branches. I frowned. It was said the creatures that lived outside were dangerous, but I couldn’t care less at that moment. Despite my initial internal call for caution I decided that nothing lifelessly floating in the river can harm me. I approached slowly, noticed the shape was HUMANOID, I increased my pace. It wasnt trying to fight for its life, most likely already unconscious. Before I knew I was running, then I saw the ridge of a waterfall. I was racing the river, but I already knew I can’t outrun it.

I watched as the dark shape dramatically cascaded over the stone wall along the water. As i walked past it and rushed down, I noticed the waterfall turned out to be only about 5 meters high and the stone wall beneath was at an angle, which lessened the impact, but surely left the body with more injuries. Terrified I rushed down only to impatiently stare at the water.

It didn’t seem deep and I wasn’t a bad swimmer, but something stopped me from going in. I reached out and tested it – it was freezing. I was fighting with myself pacing at the shore there and back. “I should go in the water.” I checked the temperature again, it was still freezing. “But I might get hypothermia.” – I tried to reason with myself. “It seemed unconscious, it won’t breathe the water in.” I turned around again and looked at the whirlwinds under the waterfall. “…but it might suffocate.” I looked up to the sky “I wish someone saved us both.”

As I stood there reasoning with myself, the body was pushed by the whirls and kept being dragged further. I spotted a place further down the river, where the land was cutting somewhat into the river. I rushed there knowing it’s my last chance… and that I really should have jumped into the river when I still had time to do it. I lied on the shore, grab the trunk of a tree with one hand and extended my other arm into the oncoming dark shape. I watched as the body was being carried towards me, yet in some distance and just seconds from me the current somehow pushed it my away. It hit me and I almost lost the grip on the body’s wet clothes. The water tried to take it away from me, but I was holding tight. With all my strength I dragged the body on the shore. And just as I did, I rolled on my back, wondering why I even wanted to jump to bring the person out of the water in the first place. Still panting I turned my face towards it.

I finally had an occasion to give the body a closer look. It was a male dressed in some weirdly stitched dark robe. His long black hair a stark contrast against pale skin. As much as I was able to tell – he looked dead already. Oh how fruitless it would be to try so hard only to save someone who was long dead. Distraught I moved to check his pulse and surprisingly – he wasn’t dead. It didn’t seem like he swallowed any water either. The mammalian diving reflex must have kicked in as I suspected. I noticed cuts an bruises he must have acquired during his river float. I had all the necessary ingredients gathered just today afternoon as well as some bandages. Sadly it was all I could do, while I waited for him to wake up. He must have hit his head

I was just patching up one of his wider cuts, his arm flinched and when I looked up, he was looking at me startled, almost ready to run away. But he did not move. I couldn’t help, but think I have never seen anyone with eyes this dark.

“It’s okay.” – I tried to reassure him with a smile “I pulled you out of the river. You… must have fallen in and then there was the waterfall…” I pointed towards the nature monument, realising he probably didn’t remember what happened.

“River?” He looked towards the waterfall I pointed out. “I fell…yes…” He smiled to himself somehow relieved. That’s when I noticed his fangs. I felt my stomach sinking, my thoughts rushing. He wasn’t from my city. No, he was from the other side if the forest. Vampires were widely despised and feared among our people, even though the wars between us have ended centuries ago. But the boy lying next to me was anything but dangerous. I felt he wouldn’t be able to hurt me even if he wanted to. I felt a certain aura of sadness surrounding him.

“Why are you here?” – I was trying not to sound interrogative, but I wasn’t sure if I managed. Hid face didn’t give me any hint of that either. It seemed as if he was… resigned. I felt sudden regret for asking the question in the first place.

“I got lost.” he said looking down as if ashamed.

“Then there is the two of us.” – I smiled again., trying to reassure him after my thoughtless question. I then pointed out to his still exposed wound “May I?” He frowned surprised, but nodded and let me. I tore a piece of my cloth and continued my work. He winced a few times, but only stared at me in turn. I smiled every now and then, but I felt awkward when he observed me like that. I decided his reaction was because of the shock undergone to the random act of kindness given by the stranger.

“Thank you..” he whispered eventually and I suddenly felt chills all over my body.

I felt exhausted, but happy. Ashamed of my initial faltering, but at the same time I couldn’t stop thinking I got lost in the woods on purpose. The lesson, the squirrel, everything seemed like it was meant to be, like my life suddenly received a special meaning just because of here and now. I saved one life and that mattered for everything.

Just when I finished, I heard distant voices calling my name. “Eve! Eve!” I recognised the voices of my teachers among them. They finally found me, but I wasn’t lost anymore. I looked at the vampire and I could tell he was tense again, unsure of his future, but he was only passively waiting. I looked at the light again as it was getting closer from the downstream of the river. I didn’t have much time to decide, torn between the boy’s safety and telling the truth. That alone as a truth zealot was enough for me to feel like oathbreaker. But when I looked into those dark eyes, I knew it had to be done, it was right thing to do. It was a matter of life and death and I chose life. I didn’t want to leave him there alone either, but it was a better choice. I put a hand on his arm and squished gently.

“I have to go,” I said apologetically and I run back to my teachers.

“There you are child!” I heard the harsh voice of my head teacher. “What on earth made you run away into those dark woods?!”

“A squirrel took the last amaranth flower and I chased it.” I said truthfully.

“Well, did you catch it?”

“No.” I said with a tint if sadness as I reminded myself what was all that for. I used the precious ingredient to elevate the vampire’s pain. “No, I haven’t”.

The teacher continued expressing her disapprovement, but I didn’t listen anymore. I knew a punishment was awaiting me for all the troubles caused, but somehow it was just a pale shadow of the todays events that – I was sure of it – changed the course of my life forever.