OTW Book 1 – Chapter 4

OTW Book 1 – Chapter 4

The familiar yet mysterious figures were just as Cecelia remembered. One was tall – probably over 6 feet – and sported what must’ve been some kind of mask. Silky mocha fur cascaded around their neck like mane, combined with the proud antlers atop their head in some strange effigy of a deer. They were built like a tree trunk, clad in red flannel and hiking boots. The second one was shorter – somewhere between 5’5 and 5’8 – built on slender legs and with a lithe torso. A muted blue cloak covered them, gold trim catching the light like a honey mirror.

The shorter of the two narrowed their pale eyes just a smidge, squinting at Cecelia, who gazed back with doe eyes. Something a little like tension crackled briefly in the air, and then an inky hand nudged the lithe one and they glanced towards the one who was shaped like an oak tree. Reading other’s eyes had never been Cecelia’s strong suit, but the pair seemed to be having some kind of debate with their facial expressions. Finally, the one in the cloak turned back to her and sighed, speaking in a sharp tone.

“My apologies. It was not our intent to startle you.”

The one dressed in plaid nervously combed a dark hand through the tawny fur around their neck, offering up an awkward smile under their mask. It made the corners of their ivory eyes crinkle up behind the eye holes of their mask, which was the only way Cecelia could tell they were trying to smile at all. “Yeah. Sorry ‘bout the scare.”

They had a voice that sounded near perfectly androgynous, save for maybe a bit of a feminine undertone. It was warm like a patch of morning sun on a hardwood floor, though it shook just slightly with an awkward chuckle. 

Cecelia crossed her arms, scrunching up her nose and setting her mouth in a straight line. “You. You two are the figures I saw on the drive up here. Who are you?”

The taller of the two blinked for a second, seemingly processing something. A lightbulb lit behind their eyes, and they began to chortle. “Ohh, you’re one of the people in that car we saw a couple days ago, aren’t you? I was wondering about that!” a large hand reached out to shake hers. “Welcome to Oakwood. I’m Avery; guardian of the forest, and this is my sibling Ryder; guardian of the coast. Pleasure to meet you!”

Cecelia took their hand in hers and gave it a firm shake, just like her father had taught her to do. “Cecelia. Nice to meet you.”

The one in blue – Ryder, apparently – raised an eyebrow, seeming to perk up a little once they learned her name. “Cecilia? With an I?”

“No, C-E-C-E-L-I-A. Spelled with too many E’s and not enough I’s.”

“Noted. I take it you live in the house down the hill?”

Cecelia set her mouth in a straight line again in response. Frankly, she wasn’t sure whether or not she should give an answer to this question. Would telling the truth be too generous? Would lying or refusing to confirm be too uptight? She may have been the adventurous type, full of impulse and curiosity, but she wasn’t stupid. Stranger danger was still a thing, after all.

Fortunately, Avery seemed to notice her discomfort and gently nudged Ryder. “Hey now, let’s not question the kid too much, okay?” they said, then bent down and whispered in Ryder’s ear (although not quiet enough that Cecelia couldn’t hear it) “She’s probably pretty confused. I don’t think she’s ever seen a spirit before.”

“She can hear you, you know,” Ryder dryly replied, gesturing to Cecelia. The girl looked like she’d just eaten an entire lemon.

Avery immediately straightened up and rubbed the back of their neck. “Oh! Uh, right. Sorry, didn’t mean to talk about you like you weren’t there.”

“Oh. It’s fine. Sorry for staring, I just moved here.”

“Told you!” Avery hissed, elbowing Ryder, who just swayed lightly on their feet.

“Wow, thank you for the information,” Ryder intoned with a roll of their eyes. “Very helpful.”

“You’re welcome!”

It was at that point that Ryder and Cecelia had a brief conversation using just their eyes. “They’re always like this”

“Do we tell them?”

Ryder gave the affirmative with a simple movement of their head, and Cecelia sucked in a breath. “Pretty sure that was sarcasm.”

“It was?” Avery asked, genuinely incredulous. They crossed their arms and looked away for a second, quietly muttering “Damnit!” under their breath.

Cecelia had been about to burst out laughing when she heard a voice carry through the trees. “CECELIA,” it called from its owner’s diaphragm, and she perked up like a cat hearing a shaking bag of treats. “DINNER TIME!” 

In seconds, she was bounding down the hill like a startled deer, waving goodbye to her acquaintances by the stream and hurrying towards home and her father’s waiting arms. “Bye! It was nice meeting you! Gotta go!”

With a polite nod and a waving hand, the spirits watched her go. A shame for both sides, really. Just as one set of questions was answered, a whole new set unfurled like ferns in spring. Ryder heaved a sigh and shook their head in the rapidly dimming light, watching as the last of the sun seemed to follow the girl like a loyal pet. The stars blinked their eyes in the tired sky, and a gentle wind blew through the trees, lacing its fingers between the trunks.

“I liked her,” said Avery, already ambling their way back down the trail they’d come up. “She was nice.”

With one last glance over their shoulder, Ryder squashed down their remaining curiosity and nodded. “Yes. She was.”

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