It was her coldest midnight and the old tree was her only refuge. As she stood unguarded, the emotion she feared the most came to pierce her heart.
And the wind heard her heart.
Ever so gently it blew and touched her, plucking a feather off her wing. She closed her eyes and embraced herself tighter.
The lake below was stirred by bitter tears.
It was the first fall of the Gaila.
One: The Guardian of the Gate
In an old faded journal was a written account of a young man who came to discover a strange lake at the center of Jurea. At the heart of this lake, as the author continued to describe, was a thick unfamiliar tree of strong twirling branches and lavender leaves.
The moon that night was in its fullest glory. Captivating. Each leaf of the tree was sparkling with the moonlight, and the only thing I wanted to do then was to get closer.
I saw a raft at the edge of the lake. It was still, as if waiting for me. I wasted no opportunity and sailed closer.
It was then that I saw the thing that would forever haunt my memory.
There, on one of the tree’s branches, stood a winged creature as tall as a young woman, with feathers white as snow and beak red as rose. I watched it shiver in the cold night air and envelope its slender body within its long wings. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
It must have sensed my presence for then its large coal eyes found mine.
The creature was a Gaila, as the author wrote later in his journal, and so the lake was later called “Lake of the Gaila.”
Upon reading the journal, historians began searching for this lake and the mysterious Gaila. However, none was found. And so for the Jureans of this date, the story of the young man and the Gaila is nothing but a child’s bedtime tale.
“And we’re here in Agapao, which we all know as the city at the center of Jurea. All land and trees. No lake, and definitely no five-foot bird. Mr. Stipp, were you listening?” The teacher addressed the tall dark-haired lad who seemed to be too focused on the ground.
The lad gave a nod. “Ms. Gray, if the Gailan Tale was indeed all nonsense…” he paused for a while as if thinking. “…then what explains this?” He picked something from the ground and raised it for the whole class to see.
The teacher and the rest of the class gathered near him. There, wrapped in Mr. Stipp’s fingers was a delicate white feather, about a foot in length.
There was silence. All eyes were on a single feather.
Ms. Gray cleared her throat. “It may come from any other bird, but I assure you Mr. Stipp…” She looked him in the eye. “…the feather you’re holding is not from a Gaila.”
The lad kept her gaze and replied. “Sure. Whatever you say ma’am.”
And as his classmates were packing their things, Mr. Stipp subtly placed the strange feather in his backpack.
Their trip to Agapao was unsurprisingly dull for Mr. Stipp. History and Ms. Gray actually fit together. Boring subject, boring teacher. Hooray. And the Gailan Tale? Come on, that was just one nonsense fairy tale. He, too, did not believe in the Gaila.
“I saw you keep the feather, Dirvo.” Someone whispered beside him. It was Davinielle Stone, the Gaila enthusiast in his class. She looked almost lovely with her long chestnut hair and dark eyes, but her fanaticism had always annoyed him.
“Call me Stipp. People may think we’re friends.” He replied acidly. “Why were you watching me?”
“My only interest was the feather Stipp.” She answered, no longer whispering.
“So. You actually believe that the feather was plucked from the Gaila’s wing?” He asked.
The girl gave him a confused look. “I thought…” she paused, and after a deep breath continued. “I thought you did too… a while ago.
Dirvo Stipp could only shake his head. “I don’t. I’m not a Gailan believer so get that out of your head.” And after one cold look he strode past the girl.
“Human. What has brought you here?”‘ It was a woman’s voice, so loud and majestic that I froze. The creature’s beak was not moving as it spoke, but with the intensity of its gaze, I knew that the question was for me.
“What are you?” I dared ask, terrified and in awe.
“The guardian of the gate you dare intrude,” it said. “Leave. Or face the lake’s wrath.”
If it was the lake or my feet on the raft that trembled, I could not tell.
Alysha’s face entered my frightened thoughts, and I suddenly fear left me.
“I came to rescue Alysha.” I answered.
The eyes of the creature flashed.
“Alysha is no more. Return where you came from.”
Only a quarter past eight and Dirvo Stipp was already lying on his bed, the boredom killing him. It had only been a month since he first set foot in Jurea, but it was enough to make him wish to go back to Artisa. For him, a lad born with an adventurous spirit, Jurea is but a dull, laid back, and old-fashioned land. Around this hour in Artisa, he would be out hunting stags with his friends. It was very unfortunate that hunting is against the Jurean law.
His mother was a native Jurean and it was her desire that they return to her home country, 40 days after his father’s burial.
Only the two of them left now.
He turned to his side, and watch as the strange feather fall from his open backpack. He had no idea why he brought the thing home, but there was something about it that he found odd. He rose from bed to pick the thing from the wooden floor.
Earlier, when he showed it to class, the first thing he noticed aside from its length was that it was almost weightless, like holding the wind in his hand. It was also the softest feather he ever held, considering that he had been hunting since he could read.
To what kind of bird would this feather possibly belong to?
“I assure you Mr. Stipp… the feather you’re holding is not from a Gaila.” Ms, Gray’s words surfaced his mind.
Of course, there could be no real Gaila.
That is for sure.
Or is it?
That night, while holding the feather in his hand, he made a decision.
Gaila or not, I’m going to find this bird.
And Dirvo Stipp was not an Artisan hunter for nothing.