Sora was sure that the look on her face revealed her guilt. Before turning the corner and meeting the Kiswan coming down the hall, she took a deep breath, let it out, then proceeded forward. She was greeted by none other than Witold. She stopped in her tracks. Any composure that she had been mustering was now obsolete. She caught his eye, then glanced down at her feet.
"Everyone is looking for you." Witold said gently. "I've come to find you. You sure are an awful long way from the restrooms."
Sora looked at him. "I wasn't ready to return. All of the attention is hard to handle at one time." This was the truth. "I just needed a break." Sora shifted uncomfortably.
"I can imagine." Witold took a few steps closer. "People firing questions left and right. I would want a break too." Witold hesitated on his next move, but relented. He offered his arm to Sora and said, "Would you like to continue your walk? We don't have to go back just yet."
Inside, Sora screamed "YES!" That feeling took her off guard and she blushed. Instead, she said, "They might send someone after both of us if we do not return."
Witold was looking intently at Sora. "Well, I know that they are still in between the main course and dessert. Most Kiswan are pretty full." He had a sly smile on his face which made Sora's heart speed up a few notches. "I'm sure we would be alright taking a little bit longer."
Sora really was not ready to go back into the great feast hall. She was tired of all the attention. Knowing that no one would really be upset with her being gone a little longer, Sora gave in.
"Why don't we walk through the gardens." Sora suggested. "I could really use some fresh air."
"The gardens it is."
Sora took Witold's arm and let him lead her toward the rear entrance to the royal home.
The gardens were one of Sora's favorite places in the whole kingdom, aside from her water hole of course. There were enormous trees and the paths were framed with hundreds of different kinds of flowers. There were benches placed in locations. Some of them even hid the person sitting there from view. Sora used to get lost in the gardens on purpose, just to get away from everything else.
They entered the gardens by passing through the beautiful stone archway, and Witold looked down at Sora. He seemed unsure of how to continue.
He finally took the leap. "Sora." Witold cleared his throat. "I don't want you to leave being mad at me."
Sora met his gaze. "I'm not mad Witold." He smiled at her use of his name. "I just want you to understand that this is something that I need to do."
"I understand that." He sighed. "I just don't know what to do without you. You might be gone for many months!"
Before, Sora would have been irritated at his declaration, and she would have told him to find someone else. But at his words, her heart thumped, and the blood rushed to her cheeks. She didn't respond at first. They just walked in silence for a few minutes. Witold led them down a path that would take them to one of the secluded benches. Butterflies were dancing in Sora's stomach. She felt excited and nervous at the same time.
Upon reaching the bench, Sora took a seat, and Witold sat down turned toward her slightly. She turned to him, not knowing what to say. She was still very confused by her feelings for this Kiswan. How could he have changed over night? But then the realization struck her. He had been changed for a very long time. Her memories of him flashed through her mind. Many of the memories showed him growing and maturing, but Sora never took the time to notice. He turned into an adult during the time of Sora's disinterest. Witold was regal enough to be king.
Witold interrupted her thoughts. "I am worried about you traveling by yourself." His words were soft and hesitant. He did not want to start another argument with her. "I would never forgive myself if something happened to you."
Sora sighed. She might have been confused about her feelings for Witold, but of her safety, she knew she could take care of herself. "I appreciate your concern Witold, I really do. But I must do this. It is set in stone now anyway."
Sora was beginning to fear what was in store for her. Especially since her conversation with Leo. She had no idea what to expect from the humans. The last thing any Kiswan knew of the humans was that the son of the first man and woman killed his brother. That was shocking enough for any Kiswan to withdrawal and hide away for the rest of humanity. What if they are all like that, what if they see Sora and want to kill her? Part of her wanted to let Witold come along, but she new better.
Witold sensed that she was not going to change her mind, or see reason. He took Sora's hands in his. This action demanded Sora's full attention. The energy that flowed through them revived Sora, she was excited and.... and... in love?
"Sora?" Witold leaned in even closer, making Sora's cheeks flush warm with red. She couldn't seem to focus on anything other than his lips. "I.... do... love you."
Before Sora could even respond, Witold's lips were upon hers. The energy flowed through their lips, and she melted into his embrace. Sora felt like she could have stayed right there with Witold forever.
Witold pulled away from Sora and gently swept a strand of hair back away from Sora's face. She was lost in the fresh green hue of his eyes. It was as if time had slowed to a complete stop. He had a smile on his handsome face. Why had Sora never seen him before? She had been too prideful to think that anyone could change.
The next thing Sora new, Witold was pulling away from her all together. He was sitting on the opposite side of the bench. She blinked and turned around as someone came running down the path. It was a young page. She stopped in front of Witold and Sora and placed her hands on her knees in order to catch her breath.
Sora gave Witold a puzzled look. The page finally stood up straight and said, "I have been looking all over for you Miss Sora. I ran into Agatha and she informed me that you came out to the gardens." She gulped down more air. "The king is worried. You have been absent for quite some time now. It is nearly time for you to leave on your quest. I was sent to find you for the end of the quest celebration."
Witold stood and offered Sora his hand. "Run and tell the king that I have found Sora. She was in the gardens contemplating her quest."
"Yes sir!" The young page took off back the way she came.
"Come Sora, we must return before we are in trouble." Witold offered his arm once again, and they walked back to the royal home at a faster pace.
Sora could have sworn that she and Witold had been sitting on that bench for just a few minutes. But the reality seems as if they had been there for hours! Witold held a very large smile on his face. Sora couldn't help but admire the beauty of his demeanor.
They entered the feast hall together. Witold had spaced himself away from Sora. She missed the comfort of his energy right next to her. She now felt empty and alone. She felt so confused. So much was happening in such a small amount of time.
Queen Sasha came scurrying up to Sora and called her attention back to earth. "Where have you been? We had the dessert without you!"
"That is okay mother, I was pretty full after the other four courses." Sora smiled and kissed her mother on the cheek. Distractedly, Sora kept glancing around the room. She was restless and fidgety.
Sasha looked over at Witold, who had put more distance between himself and Sora. She knew something had happened. Sora was acting odd. Looking at Witold gave nothing away. She thought about Sora's feelings for the Kiswan. She knew that Sora was not interested, so Sasha put the thought out of her head.
The last part of the Quest Ceremony was an official good bye to the Kiswan heading off on his quest. In this case, it was her quest. No one would see Sora again, until she came back. She would be applauded and sent out of the feast hall to claim her supplies and pack and slip out of the royal house before anyone was allowed to leave the hall.
Before the official send off, Sora was allowed to go around to the Kiswan that she was closest with. This included Agatha, her parents, and a few other close friends. During this time of goodbyes, Sora kept an eye out for Witold. However, he could not be found anywhere. She felt sad that he would not see her off. But soon her attention was taken elsewhere when her father commanded the attention of the villagers.
"I want to thank you all for attending our celebration!" The king's voice could really carry. "We are extremely proud of our daughter in accepting this quest, and we know that she will be back before we know it with experience and wonderful new things that will improve our kingdom!"
The cheers erupted from the crowd. Sora stood from her seat and proceeded to her mother to give her a kiss on the cheek and a big hug. Then to her father. He smiled at her with pride, hugged her then motioned for her to make her walk out of the hall.
The cheers and applause only heightened as she neared the door. She turned and blew a kiss to all just before walking through the enormous doors. With no sign of Witold anywhere, Sora hustled to her chambers to change and be off. She was finally ready to go.
Sora's quest outfit was composed of comfortable black pants that allowed Sora to move with great ease. She had a green top that was light weight and was short in the sleeves. Since it was summer, she would not need to wear anything with long sleeves. Although, she had a long sleeve shirt packed.
Sora had transferred the scroll map to an outside pocket of her pack, she was now ready to cloud up the sky and be on her way. the sun had just retreated behind the mountains, and it was now growing dark outside. Sora sat down on the floor with her legs crossed. She sat up straight and began meditating. Her thoughts drifted to Mother Nature. She could feel her power radiating from the stone floor underneath her. After focusing on this power, Sora turned her attention to the sky. The thought of clouds filled her mind. It would not take long for the clouds to cover the star strewn sky.
Leo had taken a seat on a bench in the gardens. He was anxiously waiting for the quest celebration to end. All of his hope was riding on the hopeful power of Sora. Agatha had informed Leo long ago that Sora had a unique strength about her. She would take Sora into the archives to "teach" her about the Kiswan history when she was quite young. Leo met with her during these times. He would teach her how to meditate and hone in on her power. Now was the moment of truth, to see if Sora truly had the power to complete this quest.
Agatha approached the bench and noticed Leo bouncing his knee up and down. She placed a hand on his knee, and said, "She will succeed. Do not worry. The feast is over, and Sora has been sent to gather her things."
Leo's smiled stretching some of his wrinkles and, and causing even more to appear. "I know she will. I just pray that she can follow through with bringing down the barrier. Of course it won't happen until she brings news of the humans to the king. Once the king knows that we will still be safe to move forward, he will take down the barrier himself."
"When do you plan on speaking with the king about how the earth is losing its power?" Agatha had fulfilled her role in the plan. She had helped Sora realize her potential, and she had kept a close eye on her progress, always reporting to Leo.
"Tomorrow morning I will begin consulting with the king." Leo turned his gaze heavenward. "Otto will listen. I know that he senses the weakening too. He will see reason."
"When will you tell him that Sora is in the human realm?" Agatha asked.
"I do not know yet. That will be a touchy conversation. All superstitions point to humans as being violent and unworthy of our presence. The king will be worried that the Kiswan people will become corrupted." Leo sighed. "I don't know how brutal the humans are, but Otto will be concerned for our safety. Only time will tell."
Just as the final rays of light were snuffed out by the mountains, the clouds started rolling in. Leo could hardly help himself. He jumped up off of the bench, pulled Agatha up with him, and despite his age began to dance with her. Both Agatha and Leo began laughing and singing loudly. No one else would have brought these clouds in, because all Kiswan wanted Sora to be off with a clear sky, that was a good omen for the success of the quest.
On a negative note, many Kiswan will be worried that Sora is destined to fail with the cloud's sudden appearance.