There was no path where Ben entered the woods. Bushes caught at his clothes and scratched his arms. The mysterious girl had gone around a bend in the trail she was on, and it seemed that he’d never catch up. As he moved deeper into the trees, the undergrowth eventually thinned out, making progress easier. Breaking into a lope, he hurried onto the trail.
When he reached the bend, he found himself entering an open, sunny glade. The sudden light dazzled his eyes, bringing him to a halt. As he waited for his vision to adjust, he felt a slight breeze and breathed in the warmer air of the meadow. Blinking through the brightness, he looked along the path through the knee-high grass and saw the girl sitting on a log.
As he looked at her, she gradually became less transparent. Although his eyes remained a little out of focus, there was no longer any doubt that she was real. No older than Ben, she was quite slender and had the oddest-looking clothes he’d ever seen. She was wearing a brilliant green tunic, which had a subtly shimmering quality. An intricate design in violet and purple was woven into it. On her legs were matching tights. A graceful silver diadem headband with glittering purple jewels held her long black hair in place. Beneath the diadem, her delicate chocolate-colored face held an attraction that transcended the pain showing on it.
Her left hand, stained with blood, clutched her thigh. Her right hand gripped a bloody rag. As Ben came near, he could hear her singing softly. She sang too quietly for him to make out the words, but the melody was beautiful, and her lilting voice entranced him. He wasn’t sure she saw him until she stopped her singing and spoke.
Her voice was strained. “It’s a good thing you followed me. They were about to catch you.”
“What?” Ben asked in confusion.
“What are you saying? And what do you mean they were about to catch me?”
She squirmed with irritation. “The woman you were following has a partner, a very strong one, who was waiting for you just over the hill.”
“Who are they?” Ben asked testily. “For that matter, who are you?”
“They are Feyrens, and I’m someone who came to warn you about them. They’re after you for some reason. Believe me, you don’t want to be caught by them.”
“You came to warn me?” Ben echoed. He squinted at her, trying to make sense of this strange encounter. “You must be confused. I’m not whoever you were looking for. I just happened to see you fall out of the tree when I was following that lady, hoping that she might know something about my mother.”
“Oh, you are the one I’m looking for,” she asserted, looking up at him, “but…” She stopped and asked with sudden sympathy, “Does your shoulder hurt much?”
“How did you know?” Ben said crossly. Realizing he’d been rubbing the shoulder, he jerked his hand away.
“Had the lady you followed come close to you?”
“Yeah. She was standing beside me in the bathroom just before she disappeared. I thought I saw her put away a dagger that she might have stuck me with, but I’m not cut.”
“She stung you,” the girl declared.
“What?” Ben asked. “What’s that mean?”
“She attacked your feelings but not your body. It’s called a Feyren sting. It would greatly increase whatever you were already feeling, which I bet was anger. We each have an unseen shell, an invisible magic shield around us that protects our bodies from disharmony. It’s similar to the way our skin shields our bodies physically. She cut into your shell with a Feyren blade but didn’t touch the skin.”
“Magic shield?” Ben echoed in disbelief.
“Yes, magic shield or shell,” she said impatiently. “Look, if I don’t get you out of this clearing soon, they’ll find us both, and neither of us is in any shape to get away from them.” She twisted toward him and started to say more but cut it off, clamping her teeth on her lip to contain a surge of pain.
Ben looked at the bloody hand holding a cloth to her leg. “What happened to you?” he asked.
She rocked forward and back silently for a moment. After the pain subsided, she said crossly, “A Feyren arrow hit me. Can’t you see?”
“No.” He was puzzled. “I don’t see anything but blood.”
“He’s not even all the way here,” she complained, looking above his head as if hoping to find help in the sky. She gave a little shrug and refocused on him. “I think we better get you the rest of the way in before I try to get this fixed,” she said, “but don’t worry. We can handle it.”
She reached into a pocket and pulled out a small pink bag with a purple drawstring. When she held it by the string, the bag floated freely in the air instead of hanging down.
Waving it, she said, “The song didn’t overcome my wound, so I don’t have the power to move you the rest of the way in.”
“In? What are you talking about?”
“You’re caught between your world and mine. You’re going to have to help bring yourself completely into mine using this.”
“I don’t have any idea what to do with it,” Ben objected.
She said with surprising authority, “Come here and sit beside me.” As he took a step toward her, she added quickly, “But don’t touch me.”
Not used to sitting beside beautiful girls, he stepped in front of her and lowered himself to the grass a couple of feet away. In spite of her pain, she seemed to be hiding a grin as she gave the bag a push, “Here, hold this. It will make this easy. Just don’t think about anything and say, ‘Harmony.’”
Catching the bag as it floated toward him, he wondered how he could possibly not think about transparent people and his problems at home. His head was spinning, trying to catch up with all this strangeness. As his racing mind puzzled about why the bag didn’t obey the law of gravity, she said, “If you have to think, think about something peaceful.”
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